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[Tales From the Terran Republic] The Fallout Settles Part Two — Jessica and Gwen
The adorable Gwen Shay stumbles into Jessica's sights. The rest of this series can be found here *** Jessica made an amused little snort as Doctor Ayyangar’s image disappeared and shook her head. She found the mustache-twirling tiresome but sometimes people needed a monster. In this particular case, the doctor needed someone to be a bigger monster than he was. She had learned long ago that as long as he was cursing her name he wouldn’t curse his own quite as much. The greatest scientific mind in centuries and you’re making him create nightmares… Weren’t you supposed to “preserve” him? Wasn’t that the plan? Yes, the good doctor was one of “her people”, one of those carefully selected to rebuild Sol, he was first among the scientists and academics that she cherry-picked and tucked ever so gently into one of her “special” habitation ships. She winced as she thought of the Gardenhome. Even after all these years the tragic loss of that ship stung. So many great minds just… gone… She, without thinking, pulled open the upper left hand drawer of her office-desk, unconsciously reaching for the “supplies” that normally occupied that place of honor. “Tsk...” she muttered as she looked down at the empty spot where a flask and a small crystal box of white powder used to reside. There was no easy fix today, no quick distraction… Their faces and names floated past. Gifted scientists, scholars, artists… people who can never be replaced. People like to say that all lives are of equal value but that’s bullshit. Some people are a dime-a-dozen and others… Others are fucking priceless… Six hundred of those lives were lost that day… Six hundred of the brightest lights the human race had just went poof… And Doctor Ayyangar was among them… He just wasn’t given the mercy of death. No, he got to live… She still remembered the day he brought her The Foot, his eyes glazed, his face twisted with hate and pain… His innocence gone... Goddammit… She had promised him… She had promised him that his family would be safe… She had promised all of them... God, she wanted a fucking drink… Just to a sip… Just to take the edge off… The fate of the entire Porkie race rests in the hands of a coked-out alcoholic… Just wonderful... She needed a break. Outside her bunker wasn’t exactly a garden, but the woods were lovely and there was a pond nearby with some absolutely lovely specimens of native flora. It wouldn’t be that much longer before there would be nothing outside but the fucking void. She should go look at the weird little jelly plants. She threw on her jacket and strode for the door. *** Just outside of the city of Pol-Gelkrn on Zaran-7 a crowd started to gather around a wide field. In the middle of the field was a single egg and a small camera. Soon, a distant rumbling could be heard and the crowd pulled out their phones. The rumbling grew in intensity, as something came into view high above. The rumbling turned into roaring as the object drew closer growing ever larger with each passing moment. The crowd started to cheer as the ground beneath them started to shake as a huge spaceship came screaming down, it’s shields glowing from the heat of re-entry. At the helm, Gwen Shay grinned as the picture of the egg appeared on one of her screens. The grin was soon replaced with a blissful smile as her entire universe shrank to the size of that field. Watching half a dozen screens at once, she switched to manual control. “One-hundred meters...” the girl who usually manned the helm announced. “…Fifty meters… “ Gwen’s universe shrank down to the size of an egg. “… Twenty meters...” Her hands turning into blurs, Gwen made dozens of adjustments almost at once. “Ten meters… ” The crowd was blasted by nearly gale-force winds as Gwen fired all the lateral thrusters simultaneously and sloooowly eased down on the deflector screen. “Shields at fifty percent….” “Sixty percent…” The landing spurs of the vessel started to slowly dig into the ground below as Gwen started to reduce power to the lower deflector array. A grinding vibration could be felt throughout the massive vessel as it pressed itself into the soil. The image of the egg became shrouded in darkness… The camera’s light switched on. The egg was intact… And the crowd went wild. Gwen let out a shuddering sigh… Oh yeah… *** As the main cargo hatch lowered Gwen stepped out and waved cheerfully at the cheering crowd. “Wooooooo!” she yelled, grinning from ear to ear. “Wooooooooo!… You about some crazy fuckers!” she added when she noticed exactly how close some of the spectators were standing. A line of vehicles started to roll into the cargo bay, all of them bearing Black Angels markings. They parked in a precise manner and the occupants all lept out and rapidly started to break down the rigging holding all of the parcels in place. Experienced smugglers don’t waste any time. In moments the vehicles were being loaded and were soon pulling out at high speed only to be replaced seconds later. A wicked looking woman in her late forties, armed with a megaphone and a stopwatch, approached. “Goddamn,” she said shaking her head. “Just… Goddamn...” Gwen just grinned at her. “Where the fuck where they hiding you?” “In motherfucking high school,” Gwen said rolling her eyes. “I had to ‘prepare for my future’.” she added in a sneering voice. “You’re kidding, right?” “I wish!” “You can slam a Class Sixteen on the lawn in less than an hour already! What sort of ‘future’ is better than that?” “According to my mom? Anything,” Gwen laughed. “They didn’t want me on spaceships.” “Why?!? You’re...” “Oh because of the ‘accident’...” Gwen said rolling her eyes. “Mom totally lost her shit and made me go to dirt school after that.” “Accident?” “Oh yeah,” Gwen said nonchalantly, “When I was nine I-” “Holy shit!” the gangster gasped. “That was you?!? I heard that it happened to a kid but I had no idea it happened to a Shay!” “Gram-gram wanted to keep it quiet,” Gwen replied. “This never happened!” she growled in a perfect recreation of her great-grandmother’s angry voice. “No idea why. It’s not like it was a big deal...” The gangster looked at her dubiously. It was in fact a big deal. It was a really fucking big deal. Holy fucking shit! If half of what she had heard was true… Jesus Christ! “So, you’re ok?” “I’m more than ok!” Gwen said happily as she spun around. “I’m finally free of this fucking gravity well! Escape velocity, baby! Wooooooo!” “Oooookayyy then...” the gangster said as evenly as she could. For just a second there was something in Gwen’s eyes, something definitely not right. It took a lot to rattle Kareen. She had been rolling with the Angels for most of her life and had seen and done some shit, but that little flash in Gwen’s eyes chilled her to the bone. “Well… I just wanted to say hi and congratulate you on your pilotin’,” Kareen said as nonchalantly as she could. “I gotta go and get this cargo moved.” “Nice meeting you!” Gwen enthused as she extended her hand. “Looking forward to working with you out there!” Kareen tried not to flinch as she shook her hand. She really didn’t buy into a lot of that spacer’s nonsense but there were some things that you just did not fuck with! That kid should have been tossed out of an airlock. If it had been any other kid she would have! “Yeah, I’ll be looking for ya,” Kareen replied with as pleasant of a smile as she could manage. *** Back on Raylesh, Jessica started making he way back to the buried ship she was using as her base. As she was walking down the path something moved overhead. Reaching for her sidearm she glanced upward and just smiled and shook her head. A garish bright purple luxury grav-car with LED light bars and airbrushed furries in suggestive poses on the sides and hood landed. The door popped open and a thin old man, dressed in a crushed velvet leisure suit complete with satin shirt and big gold medallion and jeweled sunglasses hopped out. “Oneeeeeeeee Chaaaaannnnn!” he yelled as he saw her. She laughed despite herself. “Gordon!” she called back with a big smile. “You do realize that this is a top-secret facility… and that we are at war, right?” “Of course!” Gordon Johnson, founder of Johnson’s spirits replied as he gestured at his leopard print leisure suit. “See? Cammo!” “Jesus Christ…” Jessica laughed. “Get your ass inside before I have you shot.” *** As Gordon and Jessica entered her office Gordon turned to confront her. “I’ve tolerated and overlooked so many things, Jessica,” he said in a stern voice. “I really have, telling myself it was all for the greater good... But you’ve gone too far this time!… You stopped drinking?!?” “And what’s this I’m hearing about you, Gordon? Quality products? Have you gone mad?” Jessica laughed as they hugged. “People are going to need something to wash down the days ahead,” Gordon smiled, “and too many of the damn kids these days can’t appreciate good hooch.” “Well promise me you will keep making the Green,” Jessica chuckled. “If I fall off of the wagon I want to be appropriately punished.” “I’m keeping the whole product line!” Gordon exclaimed proudly. “I still have the Rumrunner!” “That old tub actually still flies? I thought you turned it into a restaurant.” “A restaurant and distillery!” Gordon replied proudly. “I was going to decommission it but in the end I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. All I had to do was rip out the tables! Even the ‘kitchen’ is original! The Rumrunner will be lifting off today! I just dropped by take one last peek at that fine ass of yours before I headed out.” Jessica gave him a little wiggle as Gordon gasped and clutched at his heart. “Damn, girl! Don’t be doing that to an old man!” “If only it was that easy to get rid of you,” she laughed. “So, you have the Rumrunner. How is the rest of your operation looking?” “Good. We are ripping-up what we can and loading those ships you sent down with anything that we can shove into them. It’s a mess but my guys should have production lines running within days. The Rumrunner will be at full capacity tonight so we can give you limited quantities of whatever you need from lubricants to paint to plastic explosives… and of course the highest quality ‘solvents’ in the galaxy!” “You are a freak but damned if you aren’t an amazing one!” Jessica laughed. “Speaking of amazing,” Gordon grinned as he pulled out clear plastic bag filled with appeared to be a wad of soap. “Three thousand calories of shelf-stable nutritionally complete goodness!” “Well that didn’t take you long!” “It’s not like I was working from zero,” Gordon replied. “It’s just a riff on Jovian Rice.” “And it doesn’t taste like shit!” Jessica said happily as she sampled it. “You are going to absolutely ruin your reputation, Gordon! How’s the price point?” “Not good,” Gordon replied. “The raw material costs are much higher in the Federation on a good day and getting a reliable source at a high enough volume is going to be a constant challenge. It’s gonna be cheaper to just buy regular food but this stuff will keep forever and is nice and compact.” “Real food is better for morale, too,” Jessica replied. “I still want to build stocks of this, though. I think we all know more food is better than less.” “You don’t have to remind me!” Gordon laughed. “If only we had a gas-miner...” Jessica mused. Gordon grinned at her. “What?” “Funny you should mention that...” “Are. You. Shitting. Me?!?” “Remember Aimee?” “Your traitorous ex-girlfriend Aimee? The Aimee who tried to kill you?” Jessica asked darkly, her enthusiasm gone. “That would be the one!” “Please tell me that you haven’t-” “Well, we’ve sorta kept in touch and-” “Kept in touch?” Jessica asked raising her eyebrow. Gordon grinned sheepishly. “Goddammit...” Jessica groaned, “Seriously?!?” “Well they say time heals all wounds...” “Including ones made by a knife it seems,” Jessica replied as she rolled her eyes. “… moron...” “Well, as it turns out after the dust settled she wound up going back into chemical engineering and set herself up-” “With the shit she stole from us!” Jessica interjected. “If she wasn’t so fucking slippery I would have killed her a long time ago!” “Well be glad you didn’t!” Gordon exclaimed happily. “She has herself a gas miner! She runs a little wildcat outfit specializing in custom organic compounds and does first-rate chemical synthesis to boot!” “And?” Jessica asked dubiously. “And she wants to come home!” Gordon exclaimed. “A fucking hyperspace capable gas miner, Jessica!” “And she wants to join us? Now?” “She has a lot of family over here, Jessica,” Gordon replied. “She wants to help.” “And?” Jessica asked suspiciously. “And with everything going on over there, she has concerns. Terran nationalism has been on the rise and now with Patricia and her cronies making a play for the Republic...” “There it is,” Jessica hissed. “There it fucking is! Aimee concerned about her ‘family’? Nah. Aimee seeing the writing on the wall and wanting to switch sides, exactly like she did on us back in the day? Now that’s Aimee.” “Yes, but gas-miner!” “She tried to kill you... twice!” “Gas-miner!” “She framed you for the chemical weapons that she produced! You know, the ones you absolutely refused to make? You had to hide in a supply locker for six months! Do you remember?” “Gas… miner!” “But-” Gordon leaned in and whispered, “gasminer!” “Absolutely not! If you want to stick your dick in that particular puddle of crazy you are just going to have to run the Republic blockade.” “Do you have any idea how many mega-tons of organics and fuel she can produce?” “I’m sure it won’t be for free,” Jessica grumbled. “She’s willing to provide raw materials at a very reasonable rate!” “Goddammit, Gordon! Tell me you didn’t enter into negotiations without consulting me!” “I got her to agree to forty-two percent of Federation market rate!” “Which is how many times more than she gets in the Republic?” “Look, do you want that fuel and those organics or not? I’ve reviewed her production records… Holy shit, Jessica!” Gordon exclaimed as he pulled out his phone and offered it to her. “We can feed everyone!” “Goddamn it...” Jessica muttered and looked at the spreadsheet. Her eyes widened. “(sigh)… What’s her number?” “Yes!” Gordon exclaimed. “What is it with you and manipulative narcissists?” she grumbled. Gordon looked her up and down with an exaggerated lascivious leer. “What can I say? I have a type!” Jessica just laughed and shook her head. “Asshole...”, she chuckled. “IF I do this, she’s off limits! I fucking mean it!” “Aww..” “The LAST thing I need is her getting her hooks into you again. You get within a light year of her and the deal’s off… But… I think you won’t mind...” she purred as she started to unbutton his satin shirt. *** Terrence walked towards Jessica’s office with a fresh pot of tea. He was more than a little concerned. Jessica was really struggling with her sobriety and Gordon Johnson wasn’t exactly a paragon of temperance. He raised his hand to knock. “Oh!… Onee Chan!...” His hand froze. “Are… Are those ‘My Happy Pony’ panties?!?” Jessica’s annoyed voice said as it leaked through the door, “Take them off right now!” “(Giggle)… Yes, Onee Chan...” Terrence just shook his head and walked away. At least she wasn’t drinking... *** Gwen looked over at the three somewhat disheveled looking teenaged boys standing in front of her and sighed. It was finally time to say goodbye to her beloved little nerds. In the end, only Susan decided to stay with them. “Are you sure you want to leave?” Gwen asked. “Things are about to get good!” “N-no… Yes! I mean Yes!” Johnny squeaked. “You are walking away from a shit-ton of money, guys! You really want to go home, back to school, and all that shit? You can be free, rich and free!” “T-thank you but I would like to go home, please,” Johnny replied as the other two teens nodded vigorously. “Well, I can’t stop ya,” Gwen said with a smile. “Actually, I can… but I won’t. I’m cool like that!” “T-thank you!” “Are you surrrre?” Gwen asked. “One of my friends thinks you’re cute!” Johnny was NOT falling for that one again! “That’s… that’s ok... We just want to go home, please, ma’am...” “Ok… That’s cool… go be nerds…. Shoo!” Gwen said with a wave of her hand. The three teens sprinted out of the ship. She turned to Marcia, her helmsperson. “At least we kept Susie!” Gwen said brightly. “You just let them go? Don’t we need them?” “Nah, we’ll get some crew from the Angels,” Gwen replied. “I’ll just give Gram a call and… Speak of the Devil!” Gwen exclaimed happily as an electric motorcycle drove into the ship. Shay the Elder got off and walked up. “Gram-Gram!” Gwen exclaimed, running up to give the old fiend a hug. “Hey baby-doll,” Shay the Elder smiled returning the hug. Gwen slowly stopped smiling as she looked at her great-grandmother’s face. “…what?” “Got a minute, kid?” *** “She wants to talk to me?” Gwen asked in shock once they were alone. “Yeah,” Shay the Elder replied darkly. “She does.” “Why?” “She wants something. She wouldn’t tell me what.” “Awesome!!!” “No, baby-doll, it’s the opposite of awesome,” her great-grandmother replied. “Look, you gotta listen all respectful-like, but you DON’T gotta do whatever she says. She can’t just order you around like some nobody! You’re a fucking Shay!” “But what could she possibly want?” “I dunno and that’s what bugs me, baby-doll. Look,” the old woman said, clearly worried, “if she wants a word with you I can’t stop it and you gotta listen but whatever, and I mean whatever she says, whatever she promises, just say no. If you say no she can’t touch you. You say no and you are protected by Angels but if you make a deal with The Devil you stand alone.” “I’m not an idiot, Gram-gram,” Gwen replied. “This isn’t some scrub trying to sweet talk his way into your panties! This is the motherfucking Devil herself! You be all polite and use those pretty words you got but whatever you do, do NOT say yes to her!” “Got it!” Gwen replied. “Be polite and say no.” “I’m fucking serious kid,” the old fiend said urgently. “I’ve seen it over and over and fucking over again. I don’t care how big and shiny that apple is. It’s fucking POISON! You do not want to make a deal with her! As bad as people think I am, she’s worse! Never forget that!” Gwen looked at her great-grandmother in shock. She was afraid! Her great-grandmother, leader of the fucking Black Angels herself, one of the true nightmares of the Sol Wars, was scared. “O-ok, Gram,” Gwen replied nervously. “I’ll be right outside the whole time,” Shay the Elder said as they walked to the captain’s office. “If you feel yourself starting to give or slip just yell or somethin’ and I’ll barge in there and… and I don’t know… do something!” “Yes, Gram-gram,” Gwen replied as she opened the office door and walked inside. She paused at a mirror and made sure she looked ok. Then she took a deep breath and sat behind her desk. After saying a quiet prayer to the Gods of the Void, she switched on her communicator. *** After a disturbingly short wait, Jessica Morgan’s pleasantly smiling face appeared on her holo-screen. “I swear it’s like looking back in time!” Jessica exclaimed. “You look just like your great-grandmother did at your age!” “Um… thanks?” “I’m sure you have things to do and I know for a fact that I do so I will just cut to the chase,” Jessica said with a smile. “I assume it has been strongly suggested that you refuse regardless of what I say?” Gwen shifted nervously. She wasn’t sure how to respond to that. “It’s ok,” Jessica said, “I know your great-grandmother quite well and I am perfectly aware of her opinion of me… She’s absolutely correct, by the way.” Gwen just smiled anxiously and remained silent. She wanted to say… something… but everything she could come up with either sounded absolutely moronic or would just dig her deeper in the hole she realized she was already in. Jessica smiled as she let the silence build. “I thought you would be more exuberant,” Jessica said an eternity later. “You certainly were when you were talking to that radio person.” Yeah, that’s because ‘Lissa doesn’t have a fucking brass bull!… And that’s the least of my worries! “Wooo?” Gwen replied cautiously. Jessica burst into laughter. “Well played!” she exclaimed with delight. “I’ll cease wasting either our our time with any further attempts to disarm you and get right down to business.” Jessica leaned forward slightly. “I want you to come to work for me.” “W-what?!?” Gwen spluttered, her eyes wide. “Ships, I have. Equipment I can buy. I have the resources to get whatever I want and as much of it as I desire, except for one thing...” Jessica said, her eyes glittering, “talent! I can never get enough! It’s the one thing I crave more than almost anything and you, Ms. Shay, have a gift.” “I wouldn’t go that far,” Gwen said nervously. “I would,” Jessica replied. “Your last landing? From orbit to surface, in a Class Sixteen, in less than one hour, on top of an unbroken egg? That’s astounding from anyone, no matter how long they have been flying. From someone of your age, your experience, it’s phenomenal.” “I… I’ve been doing this for years!” Gwen replied defensively. “I grew up on a ship and-” “Until they made you stop,” Jessica said, cutting her off, “something that I would not have done, by the way, but we will get to that later.” Gwen flinched. She knew! “Here’s the deal,” Jessica continued. “I need people who can quickly, and much more importantly safely, get large vessels onto and off of planetary surfaces and I need them now. There are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of our fellow human beings trapped on dozens of worlds. Those are our people, my people, and I’m not going to abandon them to the fucking Feds. Shuttles aren’t going to cut it! I don’t need to move people by the dozens, I need to move them by the thousands! No spaceports, open-dirt landings. Not everyone can do that. You can. I need that. I need you.” “But I’m with the Angels and-” “Oh I wouldn’t dream of making you forgo your alliance,” Jessica said with a smile. “While I would love to bring you fully into my organization I am not asking you to make a choice. I just want use of skills… temporarily. Do these people moving runs for me, and once we have everyone that we can evacuated, I have absolutely no problem with you returning to the Angels… if that’s what you truly want.” “Ok, that sounds reasonable enough,” Gwen said suspiciously. “What’s the catch?” “The catch?” Jessica asked innocently. “Why ever would you think-” She broke off into a chuckle. “Yes, there is always a catch isn’t there. I’m not asking you to pilot a cruise ship. These recovery missions are likely going to be through hostile Federation space and the systems aren’t always going to be happy to see us, and by us I mean you. I’m asking you to do something quite dangerous. There is no guarantee you will survive.” There’s no guarantee I’ll survive now. Gwen thought to herself. I’m rolling with the Angels for fuck’s sake. “Of course you will be well rewarded for the risk,” Jessica continued. “Rewarded?” “Yes, very well rewarded,” Jessica replied. “You have done quite well in obtaining a Federation Class Sixteen. It’s a lovely ship, but entirely unsuitable for my purposes. While its operational capabilities are sub-par the real problem with it is that its a Federation vessel, a clearly pirated one. You can’t be going about representing me in a pirated ship. It will further complicate a very complicated situation and we can’t claim that you are ‘peaceful’ when you are demonstrably already a pirate. I will trade vessels with you. That Class Sixteen can serve me perfectly well in an auxiliary capacity and for it I will give you… this.” Gwen gasped as a picture of a Krenk-Halyx appeared on the screen. It was number seven on her list! “I see you recognize it,” Jessica smiled. “a Krenk-Halyx medium cargo ship with a completely clean title. It’s yours if you come to work with me.” Gwen’s mind swam. Big engines, huge hyperdrive, advanced navcomp… and something else… something much more important... Jessica smiled as her eye-tracking software indicated exactly where Gwen was staring. She had her. “I have the papers right here,” Jessica said with a pleasant smile. “Your Class Sixteen will serve me quite well in an auxiliary capacity and with this you will be able to go anywhere, do anything… once your obligation is complete, of course. You will own the ship from day one and soon as you qualify, you will be its captain.” “Qualify?” Gwen asked suspiciously. “Yes, qualify,” Jessica replied. “I’ll happily gamble the ship on your unproven abilities but not the crew. Ships I can buy but crew? Good crew has always been valuable but now they are priceless! I can’t ‘give’ you a crew and, no offense, I’m not letting one of my vessels be crewed with a Black Angels cadre. One atrocity and it’s my name, not hers, that is stained. So, unless you have quite a few more members on your cheer squad I’m going to have to assign my people, at least temporarily. Don’t worry. Everyone will understand that having you qualify is second only to the mission. I have every confidence that you will rise to the occasion.” Gwen unconsciously started to play with her hair. “Qualifying” could take years. “On the bright side,” Jessica continued, “your training and subsequent qualifications would be through Morgan Shipping, a member of the Galactic Merchantman’s Association and thus will be honored throughout all of known space. Real training. Real certifications. You wouldn’t be limited to just the Black Angels. You could go anywhere, once our current little situation is resolved, of course. It’s a small inconvenience for one hell of a reward. When this is all over your licenses will be valid. And you will still own the vessel from day one!” Which means exactly squat, Gwen thought. The crew will follow the captain, not the owner. The only thing the owner can do is hire and fire which means absolutely nothing. “I… I appreciate this… I really do...” Gwen replied nervously. “But?” Jessica asked calmly as she felt the hook slip from Gwen’s mouth. “But I already have a ship, not as good… God… nowhere as good but it’s mine… And I’m already a captain and I can get a crew, a good crew, that will follow me and as far as those certifications go, I can get them on my own… I… I’m sorry but I have to say no… ma’am.” Jessica kept her expression pleasant and even but inside she was scowling. She wanted this little morsel. How about the actual truth for once? Now there was an interesting thought… “Don’t want to give up your freedom?” Jessica purred, “makes sense. Nobody, at any age, would be eager to give up command. But I have one question I want you to ask yourself...” Gwen shifted uncomfortably under Jessica’s predatory gaze. “… do you honestly think it’s going to be that easy?” Jessica asked. “What?” “If you take it, it’s yours,” Jessica replied. “That’s one of our major tenets. Privately, I despise it. I had hoped for so much more than a society of pirates, murders, and thieves. I really did, but, whether I like it or not, that is one of the core tenets of our wonderful society. You took that Class Sixteen so it’s yours... Congratulations,” Jessica added sarcastically. “Yeah, it is mine!” Gwen said defiantly, taking real offense. “And I’m going to be a GREAT captain!” “Of that I don’t have a single doubt,” Jessica replied. “The ‘qualifications’ are for my men, not me. Think about it. I can’t put a Black Angel, especially a sixteen year old one, in front of them and tell them that she’s their captain. Owner they will accept. Captain? That won’t fly.” “And that’s why I’m saying no!” Gwen replied. Jessica smiled. Now she had the girl engaged. Now there was something to grab on to. “And you think it’s going to be any easier with the Black Angels? If you honestly do then this conversation is over. I don’t have time to waste with idiots.” “What do you mean?” Gwen demanded with far more confidence than she felt. “I’m a fucking Shay!” “How do you think it’s really going to go when you get a real crew, huh? Think about it. Your ship, filled with their people.” “They are my people!” “No, they aren’t,” Jessica replied. “not really. They stopped being ‘your people’ the second the accident happened and you know it.” “That’s bullshit! They-” “Will be watching you every single second of every single day you are with them,” Jessica said calmly. “They will never trust you and can you blame them? They use what happened to you as their ultimate punishment. It terrifies them as well it should. Nobody escapes what happened to you unscathed… unaltered… nobody.” “What are you talking about! I’m just fine! I’m-” “How long can you hold out, hmm? Are you even going to try, or are you, even now, just dying for the chance to do it again?” Gwen looked away. “I knew it, addicted,” Jessica said with a smile. “I understand addiction very well. Mine are tame, embarrassingly boring compared to yours, but the same principles apply. Once certain things get under your skin they are there for life. You can deny them, your vices, but you can never truly be free, can you? Part of you is always thinking about it, always yearning for what you can’t have. Isn’t that true?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about...” Gwen said weakly. “Darling, I’m addicted to alcohol, cocaine, and a pile of designer drugs. I shook the pills long ago but a day doesn’t go by without me thinking about them at least once. The booze and the coke? I only quit those when I reassumed command and it hurts every single day. I know an addict when I see them because I am one and you, Ms. Shay are an addict. I know it but even more importantly your great-grandmother does. She will be watching and you can bet that there will be someone on ‘your’ crew that will be fully capable of taking command the second you fuck up. You might be able to get one hit, maybe and then… right back to the dirt you go and there will be no escape a second time.” “Nobody is going to take my ship! I’ll-” “Fight them all?” Jessica asked with chuckle. “A captain only leads with the permission of their crew. If they lose their confidence in you, that’s it. The same holds true for your great-grandmother or even myself, by the way. We are, in a way, just as subservient as those who we lead. Nobody gets to do what they really want, trust me,” she said ruefully. “If your crew wants you out then you are out, especially in an outfit like the Black Angels. In the Angels it wouldn’t even be mutiny. You can be formally challenged for your command. You might be a bad-ass but what chance do you have against one of your Gram-Gram’s real thugs, especially the one she will send for you? You won’t even have the honor of being killed. You will be given a spanking and sent to your room and that will be that.” “Fuck you!” Gwen snarled. “Feel free to terminate this call if you think I’m wrong,” Jessica smiled. “Of course if you do then you won’t get to hear the real reason why I want you. Do you honestly think I don’t already have skilled pilots? I’m Jessica fucking Morgan! My special projects cadre are the best money can buy. I have people who are what you will be in twenty years! Me having a dire need for your piloting skill? That was bullshit. That’s just how I was going to draw you in.” “I thought you were supposed to never lie,” Gwen replied, intrigued despite herself. She should just hang up. She knew it. Just hang up! She said you could! “You can bullshit without lying,” Jessica chuckled. “I implied that the talent of yours that I craved was your piloting skill. Oh your skill is astonishing, make no mistake. Your little egg video is making the rounds and I have captains in my special projects division just begging me to poach you. Some of the best crews in the fucking galaxy want you, Gwen. More than one ‘captain’ would happily throw it all away for the chance to be on one of these ships and several of them already want you! Impressive, truly impressive, but that’s not the talent of yours that I want. That’s not why I want you.” Just hang up and run away! “Why… Why do you want me then?” Gwen asked knowing it was a trap. “The accident.” “What?!?” “You heard me,” Jessica smiled. “I want you not despite the accident but because of it.” “Why?!?” “I’m not going to tell you,” Jessica grinned. “I will, however, say this. I don’t have to tell you about the wonderful observation decks that the Krenk-Halyx possesses. The one that I offer you will have one tiny little modification. The aft solar garden will be converted into your personal quarters with it’s own shutter control and shields. You won’t have to sneak. You won’t have to hide. You will be able to get your fix whenever you want. Gaze into the hyperspatial void to your heart’s content!” “Wha… I… I don’t… What?” Gwen babbled, completely stunned. “You have absolutely no idea how special you are, Gwen, but I do,” Jessica purred. “For almost every single human being, direct exposure to hyperspace is lethal, worse than lethal. What it does to the body and to the mind… well… There’s a reason that the vilest of the vile use it as torture. But, for one nine year old girl, it wasn’t torture. It was amazing, wasn’t it?” Gwen just nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. “You aren’t the first.” “What?” Gwen spluttered. “Nope,” Jessica smiled. “You aren’t alone. You are incredibly rare, perhaps one in hundreds of millions, too rare to actually quantify, but you are NOT unique. There are others.” “Who?!?” Gwen gasped. “Not telling you,” Jessica grinned. “Not yet… There is only one way to find out...” *** Shay the Elder stalked up and down the hall getting angrier and more worried by the second. It had been too long. It had been far too long. She should barge in there, tell that witch to go and fuck herself! She strode to the door and froze. It was fucking Jessica Morgan. There wasn’t much that scared Old Gwen but that woman… But it was her baby-doll! No! She had given that monster enough! She wasn’t going to get- The door opened and her precious little girl stepped out. Oh no! “I’m… I’m sorry Gram-Gram...” Gwen said with tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry...” “It’s ok,” the old woman sighed as she wrapped her arms around her. “She always wins… Always...”
Previous | First | Next ----- A/N: Please consider supporting my writing efforts on Patreon. You can follow this story and be alerted when new chapters release via fanfiction.net. Special thanks to Tobi from the discord server for a double visual accompaniment today as well! They are not perfect representations of in chapter events, but they set a great scene nevertheless! ----- “Well, what do you think?!” Houston asked gaily, taking Fredrick by the hand and leading him aboard her mint condition hull. Modifications had clearly been made in the absence of a physical crew, leaving the ship sleeker and more evasive while maintaining its substantial firepower. The three triple 203mm batteries aboard the vessel were mimicked by the girl’s rigging, a complex system of hydraulics and tubes connecting her miniature guns to her waist. They sat aboard large steel-gray and red stabilizing fins that would help her maintain balance in open ocean combat, and were completed by a small, grinning Cheshire cat decal above the letters USN. She carried a pistol in her hand, a replica of one of her 40mm Bofors batteries. “I think the smile on your face says it all,” the young cook replied, tilting his head to steal a glance at the exposed skin between her shoulder blades. Just below her collar, a vibrant rigging mark in the shape of Texas’ lone star still glowed, fading slowly in the wake of the ship’s new construction. As soon as they were aboard Houston activated her engines, pulling the cruiser out of dock so that Minneapolis could begin work on her own hull. “Hmm, you’re rather sweet, Frederick. I’m glad you’re back safe and sound too,” Houston told him kindly, walking around her deck as she inspected her guns and fittings with pride. Many parts of the ship came to life under her touch, pivoting and changing elevation as if partaking in a firing exercise. “I could say the same, Miss Houston.” “Oh come on, all I did was laze around and help look after the kids!” “Doesn’t mean something couldn’t have happened. It’s war, after all,” Miles reminded her, though it certainly wasn’t necessary. She spun on her heel to face him, her large Union Navy tattoo plainly visible on her upper right thigh. “Be safe tomorrow too, Miss Houston. It would be a shame to come home all this way just to…” The young man could not quite bring himself to say ‘lose you’, but Houston seemed to understand his meaning all the same. As her rigging shimmered and vanished, she reached out and took his hands in hers. “You cut yourself. Be careful in the kitchens,” she observed, fingering a tender wound that would surely leave a bright pink scar atop one of his knuckles. “And Lord willing, that's all the action I’ll see in this war,” Miles replied, taking a deep breath and squeezing her fingers tightly. “The way the Commander spoke, it sounded like the largest fleet ever assembled is coming for us.” “And you’re worried about me,” Houston finished quietly. It was not a question. “I’m worried about Hatsuharu and Yuugure and all the rest too, but at least they’ll be on the island. I can do something if it comes down to it. You’ll be very far away,” he worried as Houston found herself a suitable location in the bay just north of the base and dropped anchor next to the California. “But I’ll be thinking of you!” She promised happily, though those words only served to draw Fredrick’s face tight in a frown. “Fredrick-” “Just be careful,” he insisted. “It’s a beautiful ship; it would be a shame to lose it again.” “Yeah it would, wouldn’t it?” Houston agreed thoughtfully as a pair of gulls settled on the top of her aft crow’s nest. “But Fredrick, I’m already on borrowed time. I can feel it in my cube, in my bones. I was supposed to die at Java, without having ever met you.” “Miss Houston?” Fredrick whispered, feeling a small pit of fear worm its way into his guts. The air about her had changed significantly, revealing a sober and almost world-weary woman underneath her metallic cat ears and vibrant pink hair. “Fredrick, have you ever lain with a white woman?” Houston asked before seeming to remember herself. She tittered at his shocked expression. “No, I didn’t think so given you are barely allowed to speak with them. What about any woman?” No more adequate an answer was forthcoming from the young man as he found himself rooted to the spot, Pacific breezes ruffling his uniform. Houston took his hands again and stepped close to him. “Second chances shouldn’t be wasted, don’t you think, Fredrick?” “I uh, but aren’t you… what I mean to say is the Commander-” “Is an exceptional and handsome man!” Houston agreed readily. “He’s kind, reserved, and saved my life. He’s competent too, and I think he’ll see us through the battle tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I want to go to bed with him. Not every girl in this fleet has dreams of glory. I just want to live this life I’ve been given. I’m happy to take you back to the docks right now, Fredrick, but I don’t want to leave you tomorrow with just a peck on the lips. Come live a little with me, ravel up my ball of yarn?” she suggested with a cute swipe of her fingers against his uniform. When he leaned closer, Houston sealed her request with a brush of her thin, soft lips against his own. The boy’s mind may not have known how to respond to her, but his body needed no such training or consideration. He allowed his lips to part in invitation, one she greedily but gently accepted. The two fumbling lovers embraced, with Houston gasping against his mouth and pulling back as his left hand brushed against her rigging mark. “Did I hurt you?” Fredrick asked quickly, swallowing heavily as he noted the growing flush in Houston’s cheeks. The girls back home, the ones he was allowed to long and lust after, did not blush like that. “No, not at all. It was just intense!” Houston gasped, gathering herself and reaching over her shoulder. She took his hand and returned it to her back. “Be gentle, please.” Miles was more than happy to oblige, experimenting with feathery brushes of his fingers and the comforting cover of his large palm over the area, sheltering it from the wind and warming it with his own body heat which was steadily rising thanks to their ongoing kiss. When the sensations from her rigging mark simply could not be withstood any longer, the electric shocks turning to warm pulses of longing thanks to his easy touch and unassuming manner, Houston took his cheeks in her hands. She could feel the slight beginnings of stubble under her palms. Bright green eyes met dark brown and delightful laughter bubbled up from her chest. “Fredrick, I didn’t want to do this so soon but it seems Akagi and Kaga decided not to wait around. Would you make love to me; show an unordinary girl an ordinary life?” Houston’s second proposition was no more answerable than her first, but again the young man’s body knew the correct reply. He had no way, no words to explain to her just how unordinary their union would be. But he considered the coming battle, considered the fact that she might be lost. There was only one course of action to be taken. Without a word he shrugged off his jacket and shirt, laying them down on the deck for her. Houston laid herself down graciously, throwing him a coy yet innocent smile that beckoned him to oblivion. He was powerless to stop it as she freely bared herself to him, save her choker. As the base prepared for war and a New Orleans class hull came to life at dock, no one took the time or effort to glance out to sea as Houston felt herself come alive again. ----- “Don’t you want to be down there with her?” West Virginia asked Javelin. The two of them were seated near one of the base’s fixed AA batteries, about halfway up the slope to the dorms and radio tower. Mountains of shells were ready and waiting to be fired, courtesy of the bulins and Akashi. “I feel like I’ve done nothing but remain at her side since she arrived here,” Javelin replied sadly, recalling Zed’s desperate flight from her own faction. “She’s one of my best friends. I can’t let this be anything but her decision. Sometimes it feels like she and Laffey are my sisters, even though I love Jupiter and the others dearly as well.” “Mmm,” the stoic battleship agreed, fingers resting on the neck of her guitar. “So your focus is evasion?” “Yep yep!” Javelin affirmed, playing with her blueish-purple hood and adjusting the small crown atop her head. “Don’t count me out when it comes to submarine warfare or gun battles either. I wish I could do something about my torpedoes though. Those new girls from the Sakura have such amazing armaments.” “Yeah, but their guns couldn’t even tickle me if they tried,” West Virginia countered. “Based on what happened with Downes and Laffey, at least what I understand of it, keep training and keep focused. When the Commander grants you that power, or when you feel the need to claim it for yourself, I think you’ll acquire the strength you need.” “You make it sound like magic,” Javelin replied with a smile. West Virginia’s eyes softened slightly. “Not sure what else to call it. Not even Commander Thorson or the minty kitty really understand those cubes. They know how they work to an extent but the rest might as well be magic. But that’s good. If they’re shooting at you and missing, that gives me an opening. You’ll find that us Colorado’s aren’t the fastest or most maneuverable. And I don’t have as many barrels as Pennsylvania or Tennessee. But…” “But?” Javelin prompted. “Woe to any ship that tries to face me woman to woman, even a carrier if I can see her. Did you know I used to have torpedo tubes?” “No! Really?!” the Royal destroyer demanded excitedly, tapping her namesake weapon against the ground. The battleship gave her a full smile that time. “Yeah, really. When I was injured at Pearl Harbor and they wanted to rebuild me, I told them to get rid of them. A fast little demon like you is perfect for that sort of thing. Me? It would take so long to turn and fire the other tubes it would be pointless, to say nothing of my main battery rotation speed. But don’t worry. I’ve made up for it.” “Uh huh, how so?” Javelin was eager to learn more about her battle buddy, having never seen a Colorado-class hull before their arrival at Thorson’s base. “You won’t tell Tennessee?” “Why would I do that?” “Because we were redesigned to be better than her,” the battleship replied neutrally. Javelin shrugged. “She doesn’t care. No offense, but I’d still bet on her in a fight with you. She’s merciless!” The destroyer’s tone was one of approval. “No arguments there, at least not right now. But she’s only got sixteen 28mm guns and fourteen Oerlikons.” “Right. And you?” Javelin tapped the AA battery with the tip of her spear to accentuate the point. West Virginia struck a chord on her guitar. “Forty 40mm Bofors, forty three Oerlikons, and of course the eight 406mm guns. Just focus on the seaborne threats when we fight. My sisters and I know how to provide a protective AA envelope. With Cleveland on our side our odds are even better. Maybe it’s because she’s a cruiser but I just can’t beat her precision.” “With so many guns you won’t have to! But do you really think we can win? It sounds like the enemy has as many aircraft as they want.” For the first time, true worry crept into the young woman’s voice. West Virginia placed a hand on her shoulder. “We have unending firepower and resolve too. I’m sure you’ve seen plenty over in the Atlantic, but don’t underestimate the will of those who lived through Pearl Harbor. I remember the smoke and the flames, the screams of dying men. Oklahoma and Nevada didn’t make it. Downes and Cassin were torn to pieces. But in the end they failed. Even if they destroy Enterprise and her sisters tomorrow they will have failed if they can’t kill us.” The conviction in West Virginia’s words, especially given her typically mild manner, gave Javelin pause. She remained silent as a squadron of P-40’s flew by overhead, now a sight on the base almost as common as the flocks of seagulls. Far out to sea she could see Yamashiro and Fusou’s float planes returning from a scouting mission. The battleship continued. “Those of us who didn’t perish in those fires are now stronger than they could possibly imagine. I went all the way across the country and back, met the people I’m defending. Colorado dismissed her entire crew in the wake of the attack and rebuilt herself with her own hands. Maryland hasn’t ceased sharpening her skills since that day. If she ever finds the ones who killed Oklahoma they’ll wish they were already dead. And I know I don’t need to speak for Pennsylvania and Tennessee.” As a group of three Fulmars rocketed out to sea to join in the scouting mission, West Virginia struck a harsh chord on her guitar. Javelin’s foot was tapping soon after. Send them over the waves, her sentinels.They’re reporting the news, position of our foes.This battlefield’s been chosen, Thorson orders advance!Time to alert our sisters, they’re soon in range. “Midway! We meet at Midway!” Javelin added happily, bobbing her head from side to side. The battleship threw her a favorable look and continued. A passing bulin stopped to sit and listen. Call all women to deck, keep the fortress strong.Head out into the sun, descending on our foes.This is the crucial battle, in the heat of our war.To sail and sink our targets, out in the waves. “Midway!” Display our might, order and chaos, battleships at war. “We meet at Midway!” We’ll win the fight, tactics are crucial. “Naval war!” Cleveland cut in from the stairs as she and the Portland class sisters headed to the Sakura dorms to spend some time in the onsen. Far from shore a Pacific war,Shells are raining from the skies.It’s a Dreadnought day, it’s our naval way,A blood-red sun is on the rise. West Virginia wailed on her guitar for a few chords, allowing some of her pent up frustration and battle energy to seep into her music before transitioning to working her fingers along the strings individually. By the time she and Javelin repeated the chorus another couple of times and struck the final note, they’d garnered a small audience, including several manjuu, who dispersed or hopped away after polite applause. When they were alone again the battle partners looked at one another. The USS Minneapolis sounded her horn from the docks below, another weapon in Thorson’s arsenal. “I think this is the beginning of something beautiful,” Javelin declared. West Virginia smiled thinly behind her collar. “You’re my favorite tea-drinking Royal, that’s for sure.” ----- “Come on, sis. Tomorrow’s going to be a big day. Live just a little bit?” California insisted as she and Tennessee strolled along the beaches to the east of the docks. Since arriving at the base, the beach had become, unsurprisingly, California’s stomping ground. She strode through the shallows, kicking up the seafoam remnants of waves with her bare feet, her body clad in a dark blue bikini with gold trim. From her feminine hips hung a sheer shawl designed after her state’s flag, the bear and golden star accenting her behind. “Easy for you to say. Tennessee doesn’t exactly have any beaches,” the elder sister replied. “And since when did you care about your home state?” “Never.” “Then you have no excuse! Come on, Tenn; the water’s great!” “We’re boats, of course it is,” she sighed, nevertheless caving and joining her sister, if only to stem the tide of good-mannered nagging. Her uniform vanished and was quickly replaced by PT shorts and her black sports bra. California groaned. “You have absolutely no fashion sense, sis, you know that?” “I’m a machine of war, Cali. I don’t need fashion sense.” “Mhm, your partner doesn’t seem to mind admitting she’s more than a boat,” California countered coyly, pointing with discretion towards the dry sand of the beach and the tropical tree line just beyond. There sat Downes and Ooshio, the former having long discarded her jacket and oversized t-shirt. “I’m going to have to talk to her about that,” Tennessee said quietly, seeing that Downes had managed to connect her studded leather collar to a bra in similar black material, complete with metallic studs along the straps and over her nipples. The battleship didn’t bother looking close enough to see if she’d changed her underwear to a similar material, or if she was just indulging in rank hedonism on some sort of brave whim. Regardless of her own thoughts on the matter, the ensemble was having the desired effect on its intended recipient. Tennessee watched with a hardened expression and clenched jaw as a flushed Ooshio ran her fingers tenderly over Downes’ exposed musculature, the Union destroyer leaning against a palm tree and her new girlfriend resting among the sand and grass. Despite the lewd situation the two of them were deep in discussion, with Downes waving her hands about animatedly. No doubt she was in the middle of one tale or another. Catching Tennessee’s eye, the ashen-haired girl waved from the shade, prompting Ooshio to look their way as well before promptly turning red again and burying her head in the crook of Downes’ neck. “Aww, she’s so cute! And she was looking straight at your abs by the way,” California laughed. She didn’t know Downes well, but the young woman had always struck her as a dominant and protective type. “It’s a good match, don’t you think?” “I think I need a new sparring partner,” Tennessee growled. “That’s not fair, sis! She can have her fun and still train with you.” “And what about you?” The elder sister pulled her cap over her eyes. “You have yourself someone to watch your back?” “Other than you, you mean?” California smiled as a wave lapped at their bare ankles. “Yes, other than me.” “Yep, brand new ships too!” California insisted, pointing at the Houston and Minneapolis far out in the bay. Tennessee nodded. “Good.” “When are you going to talk to him, Tenn, seriously?” California’s tone grew worried. “If the worst happens-” “There’s nothing to talk about, Cali!” Tennessee insisted sternly. “You can lie to the others but not to me. I see right through you. I’m your sister,” the younger replied, holding Tennessee’s gaze. “Look,” the battleships gaze out to the northern ocean. “If both of us survive tomorrow, there will be nothing that needs to be said.” “Your state may not have beaches, but you’re more stubborn than a Tennessee mule,” California relented, throwing her hands up. “Oh well, I’ll just have to make sure you two hardheads live to tell the tale!” “Just stay behind me, sis. Everything will be fine.” Tennessee wrapped her arm around California’s shoulder and pulled her closer. The sisters continued along the shoreline, silence supplemented by the song of gulls, the rustling of palm fronds, and the roll of the surf. California smiled as she rested her head on Tennessee’s shoulder. “Yeah, we’ll be fine.” ----- As Z23 stumbled out of the conductive matrix, gasping for breath, a rush of relief and weakness washed over her. Her collapse was forestalled by Thorson’s arms. When the waters had risen above her head and her world went dark, horrific flashes of the past returned. His warmth banished them. “Zed, you alright?” he demanded quietly. Their corner of the labs was deserted and quiet, with bulins occasionally entering through the main doors far at the other end to pick up ammunition or oil for the ships ready to sortie. “It is done, mein Kommandant.” “Shall we go see her?” Thorson suggested, relieved and pleased to feel the give of her body against his arms. The girl of skin and bones who he’d bathed weeks before was gone. Her cheeks were rosy, her hair had grown flaxen and lustrous, and her chest finally looked at home on her slim, fit frame. “In a moment, Kommandant. I am still weak,” she explained as the Iron Cross of her rigging mark still glowed almost angrily with a bright blue light. “No problem,” he smiled, pushing up quickly with his legs into a standing, bridal carry. Zed gasped and held on tight, finding her arms wrapped around his neck and her lips brushing against his fabric-covered clavicle. He could feel her exhale against his pulse point. Her lips followed after. When he glanced down at her, she craned her neck and offered him another kiss, which he accepted willingly. “I would be loath to head into battle knowing Laffey and Javelin had received your affections in such a way without me,” she whispered as he carried her to the nearest door that led to the docks outside. Her words saw him halt and give her another, longer kiss. This one she was strong enough to receive and relish. Downes’ bravery had broken his resolve with regards to his more mature destroyers. The looming specter of death by kitsune was also a factor, if he was honest with himself. “Mein gott, Kommandant… I did not know you felt such-” “I remember when you first came to us,” was all he said as he turned and pushed his back against the door and carried them out into the sunlight. A gleaming, sleek hull of Germanic make sat in the waters before them, devoid of any hint of siren taint. She was narrow enough to fire her torpedoes to starboard or port from two fixed quad torpedo batteries in the middle of her hull. To her stern sat depth charge launchers and other anti-submarine armaments common in the Atlantic, and her four 5.9 inch cannons completed the look. Placing Z23 on the docks, Thorson stood back as she activated her rigging and placed her hand against the cool steel. Atop her mast appeared an ancient flag, one Thorson only knew from his studies of the wars of the European continent, the North German War Ensign. “How long since that flag has flown?” he couldn’t help but wonder. “1919, mein Kommandant,” she replied sadly. “That was the year my people’s spirit was broken. They still believe the Fuhrer commands them… we would never recover if they knew the truth.” “About the sirens?” “Ja, Kommandant. If it is too much I can-” “I think it suits you far better than Akashi and Fusou’s splinter faction colors, Zed,” Thorson assured her. “It is a shame that the Ironblood and Union were never allies. Such a force would be unstoppable,” Zed insisted quietly, her expression one of contemplation as opposed to practical conquest. “Maybe that’s for the best then, at least until we face the sirens directly. I know we have to fight this battle first, but I haven’t forgotten what they did to you and the others. I’ll help them if I can, Lord willing.” Zed took his hand. “Danke, for standing by me until I was ready to stand on my own again, Kommandant. You should go and be seen among the rest of your fleet. I will take her to sea and begin maintenance drills at once.” “Don’t be late for dinner Zed, that’s an order,” Thorson commanded, removing her beret and ruffling her hair softly. She smiled and took her headgear from him before turning back to her reforged vessel. “You may call me N-Nimi, if you wish. I would never deny your orders, Kommandant. I will be alright, I promise.” “That’s what I’m counting on out there!” Maryland shouted, walking along the narrow strip of cement dock that separated the lab’s dry-dock from the building itself. She laughed at the expression on Thorson’s face. “Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything. Two of you look cute together though. Commander, I’m going to spend some time getting to know my battle partner one on one. Do as she says and run along now?” “You big seven are something else,” Thorson laughed, straightening his cap. “And tomorrow you’ll be happy you have us, sir. See you for dinner. Let’s go, little one.” “Of course, Maryland. Allow me to show you around my armaments, radar, and sonar,” Zed agreed with pride in her voice that could only be described as German, leading the battleship onward. Thorson was left behind to appreciate the ship as it let out a blast on its horn and took to the sea, the dry-dock filling itself thanks to the prompt action of the bulin crews. He didn’t know how to describe the worry in his chest, but he thought it might be something close to the sorrow of a father sending his son off to war. “Godspeed, Nimi.” ----- “Tono-sama, it is good to see you,” Fusou said quietly from her seat atop one of the cushions on the sheltered deck that oversaw the rest of the onsen. She was quickly drowned out by Yuudachi and company, who reacted quite strongly to Thorson’s state of dress. The three destroyers were doing their nails along with their battleship counterparts. “Yamashiro-san, I can smell him all over you, you know? And please stay still. Shikikan, can you not walk around with your chest out like that. It makes this difficult!” Shigure insisted as Yamashiro moved her fingers in an effort to turn at the waist and catch a glimpse of Thorson’s towel-clad figure. He nodded to his battleships. “Just following Akashi’s rules, no shirt no shoes for me at least. Can’t just snap my fingers and summon a pair of swim trunks like you lot. This looks fun.” “Arizona-san, not you too nanoda!” Yukikaze groaned, watching the Union battleship’s face soften and eyes sparkle as she let her gaze run over Thorson’s war-forged body. “Oh my sweet little Yukikaze, when you’re grown and you find the right man you’ll understand too. Would you like a bow in white, red, or black? We have plenty of colors to choose from,” Arizona asked caringly. She brushed Yukikaze’s short, snowy hair as the Sakura destroyer sat between her legs, looking over silk ribbons to accentuate her look. “Yukikaze the Great does not need a man, nanoda! But she would like this black ribbon please,” the kitten requested, holding out a black strip of fabric trimmed with white lace. Arizona leaned over and pecked the girl on her head, the teardrop hairpin she’d received from Yamashiro months before glinting brightly in the late afternoon sun. “He he heeee~” Yukikaze tittered, closing her eyes and relenting against the onslaught of Arizona’s kind attentions. Nearby, Yuudachi and Pennsylvania had no such compunctions. “You thinking what I’m thinking, pup?” “Meat. Tasty looking meat, wan~!” Yuudachi replied immediately, licking her chops as she and Penny looked at Thorson. Fusou couldn’t help a giggle as Thorson proved more adept at handling open affection from his ships than when he’d first opened up to the idea. “I like the green. It matches your eyes,” he said to Pennsylvania before turning to Yuudachi. “And that’s quite the colorful ensemble you have there.” “Do you like it, Shikikan?” The snow white inu asked happily, almost flashing the entire crew as she hopped up quickly, her breasts bouncing as she held out her nails for him to examine. They were a mix of pink and baby blue. On another girl they’d be gaudy, but they seemed to fit Yuudachi quite well. He gave her a firm pat between the ears. “I do. It’s perfect for you. Glad to see you’re all making the most of this time. Now why don’t you finish up with Penny, yeah? She deserves to look good too, right?” “Wan~! Pennsylvania-san, can we take him to bed together tonight?” “Nope. If I’m spending a night with him he’s mine and mine alone. You work up the courage yourself if that’s what you want. Now get back here and paint my left hand, would you?” “Okay! Maybe later, Shikikan!” Yuudachi told him, returning to her cushion and nail polish as Thorson allowed himself a relieved laugh and sat next to Fusou. She readily leaned against him and inhaled. “Shigure is right, tono-sama. I can smell my sister all over you. It will take days to come off.” “N-Nee-san!” Yamashiro squeaked as Shigure wiggled her armored ears. “You should not have taken him so many times if you were going to be embarrassed about it,” Fusou replied serenely. “Though somehow I doubt he minded?” “Way to put me on the spot, Fusou,” Thorson said quietly, wrapping an arm around her plush waist and making sure she knew he’d absolutely not had his fill of Fusou-class battleships in his bedroom. “For now I just want to make sure everyone’s alright.” “See for yourself,” the shrine maiden insisted, gesturing to the pools beyond. The kitchen staff and other Asashio class sisters were clustered together in the water having a polite conversation. Ark Royal could be seen in a one piece suit, taking each of the flavored kittens for their turn at swimming. Mutsuki and Mikazuki were sitting at the side of the pool, splashing their feet in the warm water as Ark supported Kisaragi’s belly and instructed her in freestyle. “She’s really good with them,” Thorson said quietly, unable to help but consider shipgirls as mothers. He’d already taken many as lovers; it was the natural progression of things. “She is indeed. Tomorrow will be trying for them,” Fusou observed sadly. “We won’t let them hit the island,” he promised, earning nods of approval from destroyers and battleships alike. “Someone has to put Akagi and Kaga in their place,” Shigure insisted. “Their aims were noble, but they sacrificed too much, and were too willing to sacrifice others.” Following that surprisingly mature proclamation from the black dog morph, Yamashiro hugged her tightly. “Have faith in tono-sama. He will see us through.” “Not like I have much of a choice at this point. I defected to come find you, remember? With Yuudachi and Yuki gone that Sanctuary was awful. Now stay still please, so I can finally finish your fingers and we can move onto your toes. Oh don’t blush so much! I’m sure he saw your toes and a whole lot more when you two were breeding like cats!” “Quiet with the little ones around,” Fusou insisted sternly with a whip of her thin, black tail. “Haha, baka-inu,” Yukikaze teased, only to have Arizona pinch her cheek just hard enough to be uncomfortable. “Bad kitty,” she chided softly. When Yukikaze’s lower lip began to quiver, Arizona took her into a surrounding embrace and kissed her ears. “There there, I still love you, little one. It’s just good to be polite to our friends. Here, let’s get this bow on so you can look your best for the battle tomorrow. There we go!” Thorson gave them all a broad smile as order and peace was restored, with Yuudachi standing up to brush Penny’s hair. Even the usually stoic battleship seemed happy to indulge in her feminine side around him and her friends. He couldn’t help but point it out. “We’ve come a long way since that night you arrived here,” he told her. She nodded. “And the journey has only begun, sir.” “Hey Michishio, can we have meat for dinner?” Yuudachi wondered loudly. The shrine maiden’s manjuu chirped happily and she nodded. “Hooray! Wan~!” “Yeah, would be a shame to have it all end now,” Thorson agreed. ----- Following a wonderful spread at dinner, testament to hard work by Fredrick and the girls, the base finally descended into peaceful tension. The afternoon’s frolicking gave way to training and meditation, with Downes, Tennessee, and many others sparring hand to hand around the Union dorm’s annex. Fusou, Yamashiro, and many other Sakura left for the shrine to pray to the gods for victory. Some shipgirls, like Minneapolis, simply headed out to their hulls, wanting to settle in before the battle. Knowing he was very unlikely to find sleep that night, Thorson headed back to the onsen. While the view of his girls in towels and bathing suits was certainly easy on the eyes, the sound of running water, the view of steam and lanterns in the night, and the softness of the cushions Akashi had provided all recommended the onsen as more than just a place to see and be seen. When he emerged from the men’s room he found a pair of white rabbit ears popping out from behind the rocks that lined parts of the onsen’s border. “Hey Laffey,” he called quietly, smiling as they twitched and she turned to face him. She hummed and stood, completely unfazed as he looked at her naked body, glistening with water and moonlight. “Commander has come to spend the night with his first love, yes yes,” Laffey declared, collecting her towel and flask. She tied it around her chest and concealed her matured form from him once more, proof of her retrofit. Silently she followed him up to the lounge area and promptly sat in his lap. After a swig, she offered him the flask. “How could I ever forget my first ship,” he whispered, feeling the burn of warm bourbon slip down his throat. “This is it for tonight. We can’t be drunk tomorrow morning, or hungover.” “Laffey understands well, yes yes. Commander yearns to defeat the evil foxes and their fleets. Laffey will assist.” “Thanks,” he murmured, kissing the back of her head and leaning back against one of the pillars that held up the structure. Laffey took the opportunity to press herself back against him. “Does Commander ever wonder why Laffey has not sought him out at night?” she asked, displaying a maturity he was unaware she possessed. “No.” “Why, Commander?” “That’s why,” he said quietly pointing to two figures that had just entered the onsen from the women’s showers. Javelin was gleefully leading Zed by the hand towards the warm water. As they approached, the former allowed her towel to fall away from her lithe, evasive body freely. She hopped into the water and sighed happily as it enveloped and soothed her. Zed was left standing nearby, holding her towel tightly to her figure. Thorson smiled thinly. “She’s come a long way.” “Laffey loves Zed and Javey. She is afraid we will face Ayanami tomorrow, yes she is.” The bunny took another swig as Zed finally stepped into the pool, quickly removed her towel and dropped the rest of the way so as to not expose herself. Javelin laughed anew and hugged her, complimenting her on her bravery and figure before pointing to Thorson and Laffey. The Ironblood almost fainted on the spot. “If we can avoid her, we will. You know I don’t want to kill them… not her at least,” Thorson promised. Laffey nodded. “But she may try to kill Commander, and Laffey cannot have that, no no. This cannot be the last night Laffey sleeps together with Commander and her friends.” “And who decided that?” he wondered, taking another swig. Without warning Laffey turned and kissed him hard, claiming her share of the alcohol before pulling away to look at him with sleepy, red eyes. “Laffey decided when Zed decided to fight again, yes yes.” “Mission accomplished,” Thorson sighed with relief, resting his head back against the wooden beam. Laffey nodded in agreement before returning to her position and taking another sip. “Mission accomplished, yes yes. Laffey and her Commander have a new mission now. Laffey is stronger. Laffey is wiser. Laffey is drunker. Laffey is ready, yes she is.” “Then I’ll be taking that,” Thorson declared, snatching the flask away, capping it, and tossing it towards a nearby kotatsu. Laffey didn’t have time to protest before both his arms wrapped around her. The trade was adequate, and by the time Javelin and Zed finished their soak and joined them she was fast asleep. A quick rearranging of cushions later, the three girls were snuggled soundly under a kotatsu along with Thorson. Though his nerves mounted and grew with each passing moment, the sounds of the island at night and the soft breathing of the girls who trusted him lulled his eyelids closed with the help of the bourbon. And so on the eve of Midway, even Andrew Thorson found sleep. ----- “Hey, nee-san?” “What is it, Hiryuu?” “Is it wrong that tonight feels… beautiful?” “You aren’t often known for sentimentality, little sister.” “Can’t help it. Tomorrow, no, it’s surely long after midnight. Today there will be fire, blood, and chaos. Today we finish what we started back in December. But for now, the moon is beautiful. Watching it set in the west as the sky begins to turn red in the east? There’s nowhere I’d rather be right now.” “The world has seemed… brighter, these last few days. But do not allow it to cloud your focus. Ready your talismans and cards. This will be the greatest game of hanafuda we ever play.” “I’m as ready as I’ve ever been, Soryuu-nee. We’ll secure victory for the Sakura today. We’ll fulfill our destiny!” “Yes… yes we will.” “The time for preparation is over. This is Akagi of the first carrier division! All carriers ready your aircraft. All ships prepare for battle! Our first target is the airfields at Midway.” ----- Previous | First | Next
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – SHIP BREAKING AND BUSTING NUTS. Part 1.
That reminds me of a story. Es and I are over in India again. Alang to be exact. We’re over there at the request of Goodgulf Greyteeth, he of the CEO-ship of the largest breaking yard over there. Es and I are staying at the Raj, of course, while my guys, bless ‘em, are going through the final stages of removing the last bits of that Scandinavian cruise ship from my penultimate story update. They are doing a wonderful job, and are just about to put the finishing touches on this job; in record time and without a single casualty or lost time injury. Seems I’ve trained the gang of 24 well. All that’s left is the ass-end of the big-ass boat, complete with the twin-screw sixteen cylinder diesel-electric power plant. That and the twin screws, which in this case, are machined out of solid bronze. Actually, they’re a copper-zinc-bronze-unobtanium alloy, but these six-bladed propellers are about 9.1 meters in diameter and weigh in right at 101.5 tons. Each. Gulfy would like me to remove each in one piece, if possible. “Yeah, sure, Gulfster. Anything else?” Like, move another ammo dump? I groaned. After Es and have flown from our nasty, notorious, and noxious 5-star digs in Dubai back to India, we spend a day or so getting in Es’ case acquainted, and in my case, reacquainted with my guys, Gulfy, Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri, Mr. Ranganekary, Sanjay, Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo and most all the others from tales of Breaking Bad previous. Hell if Agents Rack and Ruin don’t drop by for a ‘say howdy’ before we leave. Es and I are staying, as I mentioned, at the Raj in my old room. Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo, and his staff are going out of their way because they want to do their jobs well, enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done, and know that I’m not one to be fucked with, intelligence–wise. “Mess with the Doctor, and have all sorts of unshirted high-explosive hell break out around your ears.” It’s not yet a motto, but I’m lobbying for it. Anyways. Es and I are walking around the yard, me in my full PPEs and Esme in her borrowed hardhat, steel-toed boots, and other necessary paraphernalia. Every time I turn around, it’s Chandrama this and Viswarupa that. Everyone here wants to meet Esme, shake our hands on returning and ask me about how “we’re going to tackle the ass-end of the boat”. “Last I recalled, I was just here on a JAFO mission; not as a hired gun,” I muttered. Sanjay procured a tap-tap for Esme and me and whisked us off to the armory. “Look in there, Doctor. Then tell me you’re just another fucking observer.” He grinned. “Едрить твою мать! Holy fucking shit!” I exclaimed, so incredulous with what I saw that I slipped into a more raspy language to express my overwhelmation. Tons and tons and tons of lovely, well maintained, categorized, collated, and coolly kept explosives. “May I?”, I asked as I was by all rights, still just a guest. To proper protocols, we must adhere. “Oh, please do”, came the reply, along with the keys, scan card, and copy of the floor plan. “Oh, my giddy fuckin’ aunt!” I exclaimed as I walked past all the high-toned, buff, and well-kept loaves of C-4. I goggled at the case after case of 40%, 60% and 80%! DuPont Herculene Extra-Fast Dynamite. A row of Hexamethylenetriperoxide diamine (HMTD). Another of Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN). Yet another of Triaminotrinitrobenzene (TATB). There was RDX, TXT, TABT, TAGN, TNAZ…a whole alphabet’s worth of things that expand very, very rapidly indeed when properly antagonized. I was almost swooning, Esme was almost yawning. “Es! Look at this! Kinestix Binary Solid! Seismogel Binary semi-solid! Holy fuck! DOUBLE HELIX, the new binary, heat-stable liquid!” New Captain America and Vortek plunger-style blasting machines! Spools of Primacord, in various flavors. Cases and cases of blasting caps. Radio control detonators! Holy fucking Hanna! Mile after mile of det cord and demolition wire. A whole locker devoted to blaster’s pliers and galvanometer. I nearly swooned. “You’re going to go and blow the living shit out of a whole bunch of things, aren’t you Herr Husband?” Es wearily asked. Sanjay shows me the freezer where they store all the frozen liquid Nitroglycerine popsicles. “Esme, my dear. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet…” I smiled broader than the Valles Marineris. “Just don’t kill yourself, anyone else, or those who are not really deserving such.” Es smiled, knowing full well that there’s no way in hell that anything smaller than a Sharknado monsoon is keeping me away from this collection of, what Sanjay informs me, is over 350 tons of explosives and associated paraphernalia. “Just leave me a car, a driver, and some mad money while you’re out playing games. I need to do some shopping for the girls and were only here for a few days.” Es smiles. This, among a few thousand other reasons, is why I married her and why we’ve been going along solid for the last 40 years. Es asks to be taken shopping and I ask to be taken to work. We’re both going to our happy places. Back at the job site, it’s a bit of a shambles, but what do you expect? They’re tearing apart a huge cruise ship, all 225,000 long tons of the damned thing. With that is included metal, plastic, wood, wires, sheet stock, bulkheads…all sorts of shit. One sort of would be suspicious if the place was clean and tidy. It’s ignominious and avoidable, irremediable and overwhelming, unique, and sudden. It’s a dog’s dinner and just my kind of place. There’s only about 1/10 of the ship left; as I said the power plant, the shafts, the props, and all that ass-end crapola that makes a boat this size go forward. All the ‘stern’er stuff. Only now, instead of just planting explosives hither and yon and blowing the living hell out of the craft, it’s down to nut-cuttin’ time. “Yeah”, I thought, “Gulfy wanted me down here on some sort of goodwill review tour. Fuck that. He wants me to finesse the last bits of this boat.” And that’s alright by me… “Doctor Rock!” came a voice, “It is so good to see you again!” It was Anad. He had rapidly shown his prowess and was now a team leader. “We…um…I am so glad to see you”, he says, “We have this new order to remove the screws from the ship. In one piece. Can you imagine? They’re 100 tons. Each! We are in trouble. We need the Doctor Rock.” Either Gulfy has a buyer for the props or he wants them mounted in the conference room or his office as trophies. “Yeah, Anad”, I said, “That is a tall order. How goes the rest of the demo?” “It goes well.” Anad tell me, “The engine is troublesome, being all heavy metal. But you taught us well. Nothing succeeds like excess! It will yield as one or in pieces.” “What about the rest of the boat? The decks, the substructure, and all that shit?” “It goes well”, Anad grins. “If it doesn’t drop with dynamite, we go to C-4. If not C-4, we go RDX. Sooner or later, it all yields.” “So, no mucking about with liquid nitro?” I asked, snickering slightly. “Oh, no, Doctor. “Anad shook his head, “That stuff is scary to Doctor Rock, it is too scary for us.” “Well”, I said, rubbing my beard, “This will not do. Looks like I’ve been remiss in my duties. Doctor Rock is going to have to have one last command performance in Alang it appears.” “You are going to use some nitroglycerine?” Anad asks, aghast. “Perhaps”, I smile and smirk. Not just ‘some nitroglycerine’, I’m going to have Sanjay speed-import just a little bit more than ‘some’… After an afternoon of lolling about a destruction zone and setting off one or ten way-too-energetic explosions, I’m having my long-hard-day-at-the-office drink with Esme back at the Raj. I was having 350 milliliters of iced Chopin Single Young Potato along with pints of chilled Kingfisher. While Esme was sipping Northern Spy Ice Cider, also chilled. She was having a small triple-hop Duvel. I mean, we were on a small holiday, of sorts. Sanjay whips in and runs up to me, out of breath. “Whoa, steady one mate. Your small but steady body is all a-tremble” I said over sips of lovely potato juice and puffs of a fine Jamaican cigar. “Did! You! Requisition! 500 Kilos! Of! Nitro!?” he almost screams. “Yeah. Sure did”, I replied over another sip of spirits and puff from my cigar. “Wait. You don’t think that’s going to be enough? Right. Best order another 250 keys…” “WHAT!?!”, he screams. Es snickers. She’s been down this road many times. “OK, Sanj. Here’s the deal.” I say over another sip and puff, “Gulfy gave me carte blanche to get the job done. Better to have too much and not need it than to not have enough and need it.” “But…but…but…” He sputtered. “Very nice impression of a motorboat”, I smiled, “Look, Sanj, I’m back. It’s me. Dr. Rock, the hookin’ bull. Gulfy ain’t gonna say ‘boo’. In fact, go ahead and speed order another 250 keys. If I don’t use it, I’m sure you guys will find something fun to do with it.” “Oh, fuck,” Sanj exclaims. He goes to the bar and pours himself 3-fingers of dangerous brown liquor. He slams it like a real pro. “I’ve taught them well”, I thought and Es says. Sanjay comes back, wobbles slightly, and says “Well then, you sign the fucking requisition sheet.” “Hey, I’ve got no problem with that!”, I say and deftly affix my John Hancock prominently to the parchment. “There. Feel better?” I asked, “Now if Gulfy gets all vexed and ratty, he can come and see me. Or wait until we’re done and Es and I are back in the Middle East. Which do you think he’ll opt for?” Sanjay doesn’t have time to answer as Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo arrives with a phone for me. “Call for you, Sir”, he says in his inimitable style. “Thanks, Major”, I say and grab the raprod. “Doc Rock here” I say. It’s my major professor from Southeast Westchester College (Home of the North Stars) on the line. He wants to know when we’ll be back in-country. “No telling, Dr. Inzhener Neftyanik” I reply. “Well, how much longer will you be in India?” he asks. “Oh, and please say hello to Esme for me.” “Will do. Probably a couple-three more days. Week tops. Maybe a month. Why? Is there anything urgent?” I ask. He explains to me that due to all the COVID craziness, there’s going to be many more on-line undergraduate courses taught. He needs some material for the Fall Session, primarily an overview of what Geology and Petroleum Engineering are and how they’re practiced in the field. Sort of a living recruitment poster.” Esme recalled me smiling something like the Grinch when he mentioned that last point. “Doctor, can you hold for a minute?” I asked. “Most certainly.” He replies. “Sanjay”, I ask, “You have access to a video camera?” He cautiously and querulously shakes his head ‘yes’. Thumbs up and I’m back on the phone. “Yeah, Doc, Rock here. Sure, I’ve got access to a video camera here in India. What better to show the little scamps wanting to start college just what a real graduate of the world can do and where they can go?” I said. He readily agrees and asks for me to deliver 15-20 minutes of video doing whatever the hell I was doing in India. Something geological. Something Petroleum Engineering. Altogether detonic. Just get him some footage. They’ll assemble and work it up there. We make our plans and agree, then ring off. “Sanjay?” I said, “Guess what? You’ve just become the Indan version of Quentin Tarantino.” “What?” he says. “SAY WHAT AGAIN! I dare you!” I laughed. Esme just shakes her head. Little does she know she’ll be carrying writer’s credits for this masterwork before the odyssey is ended. I lean back on the comfy barstool, ask for another 350 milliliters of Old Thought Provoker, fire up a new cigar and ask for a pencil and a tablet of paper. “It’s ShowTime!” I smile as I begin to etch out some ideas. “DOCTOR STRANGEROCK OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMBS.” By Doctor Rocknocker, B.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc., ASMQB, AAPG, SEPM, AAGG 421 Estwing Plaza Rockville, USA +555 6789 1011 [email protected] FADE IN: GREETINGS! Scene description/opening DR. ROCKNOCKER WALKING INTO SHOT, CLAD IN BLAZE ORANGE PPES, SMOKING A HUGE CUBAN CIGAR AND HOLDING AN EXTRAORDINARY, EXOTIC , AND ENORMOUS DRINK OF SOME SORT. Dialogue “Hey kids! You! Yes you laddie! You want to travel the world? See all sorts of strange and wonderful rock formations? And have a chance of maybe blowing some of them up? Then you’re at the right place.
Right here at Southeast Westchester College (home of the North Stars)! Come on with me. I’m currently in India. What am I doing in india? Let’s just go and see…” Scene description – A WIDE SHOT OF A MIGMATITE QUARRY. THERE’S THIS LARGE FELLOW CLAD IN BLAZE ORANGE WORK CLOTHES, BLACK WORK BOOTS, CUSTOM ALUMINUM HARDHAT AND SMOKING A HUGE CIGAR. HE LOOKS FAR AFIELD, ALMOST WISTFULLY, OVER THE OPEN EXPANSE OF THE QUARRY. HE WALKS OVER TO THE CAMERA AND SAYS: Dialogue DR. ROCKNOCKER “Yes, a quarry of migmatite dimension stone. Over 2.5 billion years old and quarried here for centuries. It’s places like this that the early history of our planet has been deciphered.” Looking quickly to Esme’s prepared notes… “Ancient rock in an ancient land. One that not only holds the secrets to our planet’s far and distant past history, but to untold wealth in gravel, road metal, and building dimension stone. That’s where you can come in. As a graduate of Southeast Westchester College, you could find yourself here. Examining the rocks. Investigating the structure and tectonics of the area. Or, like me, you could be harvesting the mineral wealth that has supported the building and structural companies here for hundreds of years…” “Clear north!” “North clear!”. FIRE IN THE HOLE! “…AND BLOWING SHIT UP!” Mash goes the big, shiny red button. An incredibly huge explosion and half the quarry is obliterated by freshly liberated dust and smoke. “All this, and more, can be yours with a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College!” FADE OUT Scene description – A BLEAK INDUSTRIAL SETTING WITH DOZENS OF ORANGE-CLAD CHARACTERS SWARMING AROUND THE REMAINS OF A SCANDINAVIAN CRUISE SHIP. SEVERAL OF THEM ARE WORKING OXY-ACETYLENE CUTTING TORCHES, SOME ARE TAKING MEASUREMENTS AND WRITING THEM DOWN; DOING SCIENCE. ONE OF THEM IS WALKING AROUND WITH AN OPEN CASE OF DU PONT 60% EXTRA-FAST HERCULENE DYNAMITE. Dialogue DR. ROCKNOCKER “Well. What do we have here? Certainly it doesn’t look like geology or petroleum engineering. That’s right. It’s a shipbreaking yard in Alang, India.” “Well, what the hell does that have to do with geology or petroleum engineering?” one might rightly ask. (Pause for a monumental BOOM after a strange several toots and a weird cadence in Hindi about ‘Fires in Holes’) That’s where study in the extractive sciences at Southeast Westchester College can lead. It might. It might also lead to a job in the Middle East, riding herd on the Arabs and their vast oily wealth. أشياء ساخنة جدا ، "إيه ماذا؟ [Pretty hot stuff, ‘eh what?] Or you could end up on an offshore platform in the Russian Arctic, drilling somewhere no one’s drilled before…. Разве это не круто? [Wouldn’t that be cool?] Or you could study very, very hard, obtain your BSc, MSc, Ph.D. and D.Sc., get to travel all over the world, on other people’s nickels, first class, drink premium hooch and get paid to blow shit up! Ĉu ne tio estas tro maldika? [Isn't that just too fucking cool?] Character Name 2 ANAD “Well, here comes Anad, one of the local guys. Now Anad never had the chance to go to Southeast Westchester College, but was trained by me, one of the professors at the university.” “Anad? A moment?” “Yeah, Doc?” he replies. “We’re all on a first name basis here. Brethren of the field, forest, and quarry. And currently the armory, the ship, and the breaking yard.” “Would you like to attend Southeast Westchester College?” I ask. “If…what… you… have…taught… us… about… demolition… is… anything…, then… yes…, I… would… have… liked… very… much… to… go… to… that… fine… institution… that… is… Southeast… Westchester… College…Did I say that right, Doc?” “Sanjay! Keep filming. We’ll fix that in post…” “So yes, indeed. Anad wishes he could have attended Southeast Westchester College, but he lives and works in India, some 12,500 kilometers away. But if you’re hearing this, you’re not! So apply now” Scene description – ZIPPING ALONG IN AN INDIAN MILITARY GARUDA VASUDHA, WHICH IS A DHRUV HELICOPTER OUTFITTED WITH A HELIBORNE GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY SYSTEM (HGSS) THAT I WAS ABLE TO ‘BORROW’ FROM THE GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF INDIA. Dialogue DR. ROCKNOCKER “As you can see, the sky’s no longer the limit for graduates, or professors for that matter, of Southeast Westchester College! I’m not only a professor of industrial geology, a master blaster, spirit connoisseur extraordinaire, but I’m a fully licensed helicopter pilot as well!” Sanjay screams off-camera as I put the Garuda through its paces and try autorotation. “No, damn it. Keep filming. We’ll clean that up when we land. And the rest in post-production.” “Aim high! Geology, Petroleum Engineering, and Detonic Chemistry at Southeast Westchester College! Fly with the eagles, don’t get left on the ground with the turkeys!” “Oh, fuff!. It’s not that bad…OK, we’ll look at it in post. Hang on, an upcoming flock of bar-headed geese! WHOOPS! Watch out! Comin’ through! HELLO BOYS!” Scene description – DOCTOR ROCKNOCKER IS ON A PORTABLE WIRELESS MICROPHONE AS HE’S ALSO HUNG FROM THE JIB OF A CRANE BY HIS RESCUE HARNESS. HE’S PARKOURING AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE STERN REMAINS OF A LARGE SCANDANAVIAN CRUISE SHIP THAT HIS CREW HAS BEEN BREAKING DOWN FOR THE LAST COUPLE OF MONTHS, GIVING THE FINAL SECTION THE ONCE OVER. HE’S TALKING TO SANJAY, THE FILM CAMERA OPERATOR AND TO THE CRANE OPERAOR AS WELL… Dialogue DR. ROCKNOCKER “No, god damn it, your other left. Not so damned fast. Just over the left screw. That’s it. Right. Hold it.” “Now you may ask what the hell I’m doing hanging around here.” …pause for laughter to subside. “I’m doing the final inspection on the last bits of this boat which my crew, whom I’ve specifically trained, have been demolishing for the past couple of months. I’m inspecting the screws as these puppies are almost 9.5 meters in diameter and weigh over 100 tons, each. I’m going to drop each one of these in one piece, as per the orders of the guys paying the bills. Bet you didn’t think a degree or two from Southeast Westchester College would lead to such amazing things as this! “You’ll never know until you apply yourself at Southeast Westchester College. You’ll get a bang out of it!” Scene description – AT THE BAR AT THE RAJ. ESME IS THERE AS WELL. WE’RE HAVING A LITTLE CONVERSATION BEFORE THE FILMING BEGINS. ES: “…and what you did to poor Sanjay. That was not nice…” FILMING BEGINS. ROCK: “I never claimed to be nice…Oh, we’re filming…And that’s not all. After a hard day in the field or the office, you have the opportunity to unwind and relax in one of the many bars and restaurants on campus. Personally, I prefer the strong drinks and cheap, subsidized prices at the MastHaus. After a day of breaking rocks, making hole or blasting quarries, what better than to relax with a tall, frosty Rocknocker? That’s premium vodka and bubbly citrus soda over ice with a twist. Or try one of several brands of local beer that’s on tap. Or why not both at the same time? How about some ether? Plus, we’re the only university now with a walk-in humidor! Over 3000 different brands of cigars from over six million different countries. C’mon down and have a snort and a smoke. How else can we maintain the highest grade point average in the East-Central Southern Northwest division? FADE OUT: THE END “Umm, Rock, honey”, Esme says to me in a kind, quiet voice after we look over the daily rushes, “Are you certain that’s what the university is going to want? It seems a bit, well, woolly…” “Oh, fuck yeah!” I exclaim over a flagon of Rocknockers and a sidecar of Kingfisher. “Look at it! Humor! Pathos! Agony! Ecstasy! Action! Shit blowing up!” “Yeah, it does have that..” Esme is forced to agree. “When we add the demo of the final piece of that boat, it’ll be a climax worthy of Lucas or Spielberg!” I grin canyon-widely. “It’s got everything. Who wouldn’t want to study at a university that offers all that?” “Rock, honey”, Esme says, taking my hand in hers, “I want you to go upstairs and call the tech guys in Japan. I think your fingers are overcharging again and making you crazier than usual.” “Nahh.” I scoff, “I’m doing great. I haven’t felt this alive in years. Maybe filmmaking is another calling I can look into. Something else in which to excel…” “Rock, please’, Esme implores, “Go call Japan…” “No time”, I say, “I have to get Sanjay to download all our footage. We’ll not have time to fix it all here before we go. Once we get the finale in the can, we’ll ship the whole mess off to the university and let them do the needful.” Yes, I had been in-country way too long. “Rock”, Esme pleads, “Then just sit here for a bit and have a smoke and a drink or five. I think your EtOH levels are in flux. You’ve been pushing too hard. You know better than anyone the necessity of maintaining an even strain.” “You’re right”, I agree, “And when you’re right, you’re right. Timor! Another round and dial 224. I need a cigar and Esme needs a Sobranie pastel!” Esme manages a wan, worried smile. She knows what I have planned, even though I haven’t said a word to anyone. She’s scared that I’m going to kill myself on this last job or do something even worse. That something she won’t even allow herself to think about… A short time later, I’m off to the job site again. After chatting with Major Nakula Dattachaudhuri and the navy guys whose contacts he gave me, I have a fair idea of what I need to pull off, no pun intended, if I’m to drop those heavy screws in one piece. First thing off, I need to weld the propeller tail shafts in place, securing it from tangential or rotational motion. I can’t have those things jumping around like a floppin’ crappie when I go to shake the props loose from the shafts. Then I need to remove the propeller cone. Along with that, I need to provide for some slack in the aft stern tube seal. They tell me that normally prior to which stern tube oil need to be drained. But since this is in no way normal, I’ll just let that flow where it may once I blow some seals. No, those on the tail shafts, not swimming around in the harbor looking for handouts. Pervert. Then propeller nut is to be removed and the propeller is desecured, that is, given a nudge prior to its removal from the tail shaft. However, I just welded the tail shafts in place, so I just need to provide the props a wee nudge. I also need to be sure all connections are well and truly severed. Propeller and tail shaft bedding reveals how good is the contact. With is really ‘who gives a fuck?’ as I want no contact. This isn’t going to be pretty nor delicate. Explosives tend to be that way. Now comes the fun part: unscrewing the Pilgrim Nut. Serious nut-cuttin’ time. What to do? What to do? I have several ideas. At this point, the props are held in place on the tail shafts by gravity. I’m going to have the front of the leftover stern elevated some 150, so gravity will be on my side. But, at 100 tons each, I don’t want to drop them simultaneously. I want to drop one, and then once it’s quietly resting on the sand, dump a load of beach sand over it to ensure that if the next one drops, and takes a bounce or displays a wicked shimmy, and it overlaps the previous propeller, there will be no damage. Oh, goody. I get to choreograph a show. Explosives, on one hand, dropping the props each by every and getting a load of sand in between the events. My crane operator owes me as I got a couple of loose cases of Kingfisher and one of Premium Potato juice for him the last time he swirled me around this boat. We have a huge dump-bucket, used for firefighting. We can load it full of dry sand, and once one propeller falls, he can swing in and dump a couple of dozen metric tons of sand on the downed props leading edges. “Yeah, that’ll work”, I smile to myself. Back at the Raj, Esme is instructing Mr. Kannada, the Majordomo how the packages are to be wrapped and addressed. He made the fatal mistake of telling Es that they have free government shipping, around the world. Great, now the kids will get their gift packages much sooner. And much cheaper. There are perks to every job. At the bar, I’m working on just one, OK, six cocktails and beer chasers. Esme inquires why I’m wearing my garish, freshly laundered PPEs in the evening. “Work is never done, dear”, I say, “I need to get back to the job site. There’s some welding that needs to be done, and I can’t very well weld when my guys are running around setting charges, now can I?” “Can’t someone else do it?” she asks. “Not this time. I’m going ‘old school’. Oxy-acetylene torch. I need to heat some huge areas of very thick metal. I don’t think there’s enough amperage in the whole county that will allow for that.” “OK, you know what’s best.” Es says, “How long do you think it’ll take?” “No idea”, I reply, “But this has all the earmarks of an all-nighter.” “OK”, Es smiles faintly, “Just leave a note with the guard shack for me to get entry. I’ll bring you some sandwiches if you’re there too long.” “Will do and thanks, my dear”, I smile as we kiss, “♫ No other bride would be so sweet... ♫” “Don’t you dare finish that song…” Es threatens. “No dear”, I shirk and smile, “Of course not, dear.” To be continued
That's right! CD/DVD manufacturing quality standards in 2007 did what the onset of global pandemic couldn't: they delayed our second round to April. But through the miraculous powers of global ecommerce supply distribution lines, March Madness (un)officially returns with all of the action a twelve-year-old video game AI can muster today, Thursday April 2nd! And we can't wait to get back to it with you all! In our delay time, we've put in some work to deliver a bit more production to the games, especially from the Sweet Sixteen on. Look out for updates in the coming weeks, and be sure to get your friends in on the action! Whether it's a Zoom watch party, a Reddit game thread, or a Youtube chat box, you'll always have an excuse to blame the refs with your friends here.
Schedule (and full bracket)
Find the full Second Round schedule here! The Second Round will consist of four games per day (3 on Thursday) from 4/2 - 4/5. After that, we'll take a few days to get a head start on simulating the next games.
Some of today's players were six years old when College Hoops 2K8 came out. Are you using updated rosters for 2020?
Yep! We originally took rosters from Operation Sports, but they've been modified so much at this point that we've uploaded a new file here. We did our best to balance via updated stats where necessary. If you see an issue with your team during a stream, be sure to let us know - there's a lot of teams (68, to be exact) and we're happy to update as the tournament moves along!
How can I spread the word?
We want this to get to as many college basketball-deprived people as possible, so feel free to use #RedditMarchMadness on Twitter and to tell anyone who'd be interested!
Can I get a downloadable bracket?
Yes. Just go to File -> Download -> PDF Document in the bracket link above!
I think I can help with something for this tournament. Where should I send suggestions?
You can always message the moderators by clicking the button on the sidebar! If you'd like to DM us, our Twitter is here. Otherwise, we try to monitor game threads, our Discord, and the Youtube channel, so chances are we'll see something wherever you post.
Can I bet on these games?
We're running no official lines from our HQ, but DraftKings has joined us in the fight against boredom! Check out our post here for more info. DISCLAIMER: Those who are running this tournament are not participating in any betting on it and will not profit off it in any way.
Some of today's players were six years old when College Hoops 2K8 came out. Are you using updated rosters for 2020?
Yep! We originally took rosters from Operation Sports, but they've been modified so much at this point that we've uploaded a new file here. We did our best to balance via updated stats where necessary. If you see an issue with your team during a stream, be sure to let us know - there's a lot of teams (68, to be exact) and we're happy to update as the tournament moves along!
How can I spread the word?
We want this to get to as many college basketball-deprived people as possible, so feel free to use #RedditMarchMadness on Twitter and to tell anyone who'd be interested!
Can I get a downloadable bracket?
Yes. Just go to File -> Download -> PDF Document in the bracket link above!
Can I bet on these games?
We're running no official lines from our HQ, but DraftKings has joined us in the fight against boredom! Check out our post here for more info. DISCLAIMER: Those who are running this tournament are not participating in any betting on it and will not profit off it in any way.
It’s probably not incredibly intelligent to be in my apartment right now, considering there are bad people after me and they know where it is. I did beat the tar out of the last bunch of yeehaws that tried anything, though, so maybe they’ll take a bit of time to regroup and figure out how to kill me better next time. Voldzet’s right. I’ve been lazy. They’re gonna come back bigger and stronger, so I need to get faster and smarter to match. Problem is, I have no idea how to get to where I want to go. I got back home around three in the morning and took something like a nap, then freshened up while checking my various hurts. The Surgeons are infamous for their sneakiness, but they’re famous for their medical skill. The stitches on my arm and belly are so clean and narrow that you can barely tell they’re there. If a scar forms, it’ll be a thin one. I eat some more of my snacks while staring at my blank computer screen. The nutrients will accelerate the formation of new vitae in my body, which will help me heal faster. In a day or two, I should be back to tip top shape. Being magical is a drag sometimes, but the perks almost make up for it. Anyone else would be laid up for weeks with these injuries. Or uh, dead, probably. I’ve got two main things on my plate right now, and I’m only gonna be able to fit one in my big fat mouth at a time. Going downstairs and poking around Littlerock’s place will push the case forward, but it could be risky. Getting to the Library will set me on the path to training with magic, but it’ll leave the case to advance without me. Yeah, alright, this isn’t really much of a choice. If I don’t learn some new magic tricks, or uh… learn how magic actually works at all, I’m probably going to die. I need tools in my sad, cobwebby toolbox. It’ll make everything I do easier. It probably won’t be simple, because magic is terrifying and complicated at the best of times, but it just needs to happen. Whether I want to or not. I kind of do want to, though. It’s breaking the law in about a thousand different ways, but… the power. With the right education, who knows what I’d be capable of? My hand reaches up and slaps me across the face without my permission. That’s the exact mentality that made humanity into food and slaves for thousands of years. That shit is why I’m living in a sewer right now. I can’t afford to think like that. Ever. Especially not now that my brain is behaving weirder than it ever has. I’m not gonna pretend - I’m hoping that the Library will help me figure out what these dreams mean and what they’re doing to me. Something is going on in my head. And I do not appreciate it. First things first. I need to find one of the Librarian’s drones. They’re the only ones that know where the Library’s entrance currently is. I think I remember hearing that the door moves every few days, so I need current information, not outdated rumor. I should probably explain a bit about the Librarian for the 99.4% of people reading this that have zero context. It won’t take long, I only know about as much as everyone else does, which is… not a lot. Simply put, the Librarian is a heiromancer. A law mage. Before you start conjuring mental images of magical cops or lawyers or whatever, that’s not exactly what this is. A heiromancer doesn’t have to be moralistic or adhere to any of society’s laws at all. They get to write their own rules, and both people and things have to obey them. Breaking a hieromancer’s laws takes either another heiromancer or some kind of entity with powers beyond that of the heiromancer that made them, which is not me. Or basically anyone else currently alive, as far as I know. This is because heiromancers are big fat cheaters that got access to reality’s source code while the rest of us are stuck dealing with read-only memory. Hydromancers work with water, biomancers work with life. Heiromancers get to manipulate order - and more specifically what order even means within a given system. Their magic takes a while to execute, because they have to prepare and write every single change they make, and they can only exert these changes over a limited area depending on how powerful they are. Given enough time, though, a heiromancer can become indistinguishable from a god, if they keep passing new laws in one particular place. They’ll never be able to leave that place without those favorable laws no longer applying to them, but in their little handwritten demesnes, they’re the closest thing to omnipotent anyone’s been able to find. It’s a rare gift to be given by the cosmos, and there have only been a few heiromancers named in all the histories we have access to, or so I’ve been told. But the Librarian is one of them. More than that, he’s the only one left, as far as anyone’s aware. The story goes that he was a slave, about nine hundred years ago. This was back when the elves were in charge of Wellspring City. They went through all the bother of stealing it from the dying dustfolk nations, but didn’t respect it or like it as much as their native forest homes, so it was more of a well-defended trading outpost for their empire than the human metropolis it is today or the dustfolk holy site it was thousands of years ago. The elves built a good part of their empire on the backs of human slaves. They were of the opinion that we were better off working in bondage than out in the wilderness getting eaten by dragons and whatnot. We had some counterarguments to that assertion, but one elf is faster, stronger, and more magical than about ten men put together, so the debate was settled before it could start. After all, pack beasts don’t get opinions. The Librarian was one of these slaves, I guess, and worked as a scroll boy in the elves’ archives. Fetched books and organized the shelves and whatnot. And he probably would have done that for the next seventy years, get tossed into an unmarked slave grave, and forgotten, if he hadn’t been selected for the good ol’ magic upgrade. It happened to me, it happened to Em, it’s happened to thousands of people across human history. No one knows why. All we can do is deal with it. The elves’ strategy for dealing with it was to immediately execute any human observed to have magical powers. Obviously. Can’t have the slaves throwing fireballs and calling tsunamis and all that. The thing about heiromancy, though, is that it’s subtle. Quieter. You can’t really see it, and you probably won’t even know it’s there until reality rips the rug out from under you. And the boy that would go on to be known as the Librarian was smart enough to realize this. So he kept his mouth shut, did his work, and bided his time. He taught himself how to write. And taught himself the laws. Then, one day about fifteen years later, all the human slaves in the elven settlement disappeared. Vanished, instantly, without a trace. And the elves found that, for some reason, they were unable to enter their library anymore. They could see the building, it was still there, but the door wouldn’t open. The windows wouldn’t break. The walls couldn’t be torn down by even the concentrated effort of an entire battalion of elven magi. It was now illegal for them to enter, in the most literal way possible. So, they collectively shrugged their pale shoulders and left. They hadn’t liked the place much anyway. They owned a whole half of the known world at the time - why sweat a weird ruin in the middle of the desert? Time passed. Wind and earth and the Librarian’s continual revisions to his laws made the Library harder and harder to find. The Brotherhood and Wellspring City rose up, and dragged the rest of humanity along with them. Magic died. But the Library is still down there somewhere - one of the only living remnants of the world before human supremacy. I don’t doubt the Brotherhood knows the Library exists, even if they won’t acknowledge it publicly. Its very existence is a glaring threat to their regime, but they can’t do a damn thing about it. No one can. The Librarian made his house unfindable, and the entrance moves constantly. Even if they did find it, it’s… well. Inviolable, in a word. People who want in and follow the Librarian’s rules are going to get in, no matter what. The problem is that getting in is tough. The Librarian technically makes his place accessible, but you have to know how to do it. The only thing I know is that he dispatches magically-powered homunculi throughout the city. They look like people, but they’re actually some kind of golem. And they’re there to give out the location of the Library door, but I don’t know what criteria they operate on. Or where any of them are. But someone in the Consortium obviously knows. Hmmm. Noon. Em should be at work. I give her a call. She picks up in the first ring and announces herself. “Em. It’s me. I need your help with something real quick.” “Dad told me about what happened. You and I need to have a discussion about-” “I know, you’re upset with me and I need to try harder. That’s what this is about. I need to know who in the Consortium knows where I can find one of the Librarian’s puppets.” “... Oh. Well, good. Uh… I don’t know where any of them are, and not many in the group do. It’s dangerous knowledge to have. But I think Berix might keep tabs on them, just in case the Consortium needs a book.” I sigh. “Of course. Berix the Load-Bearing, bravely holding the Consortium on her shoulders. Do you have her number?” “Yes. But you need to promise me something before I give it to you.” “Mm?” “You already got hurt once, and by rights it probably should have been a lot worse than it was. You’re in deep. Promise me that you’ll be careful, no matter what you end up finding.” “... I promise. I don’t want to get stuffed in a vat any more than you do.” “I’ll hold you to it, Baulric. I mean it.” “So do I.” She gives me the number and we hang up. I open a lollipop (double melon, sweet and optimistic) and ring up Berix. Her steely voice is in my head before I can really come to terms with what I’m doing and reconsider. “Municipal Records Office Third Branch, this is Berix Battlesong, how can I help you?” “Berix. Hi. This is Featherlight. I’ve got a question I need to ask you.” She hangs up instantly. I sit there for a second listening to the dial tone in my skull, bewildered. We didn’t get disconnected - I heard her handset hit the receiver. Maybe she hates me even more than I thought. Just as I’m about to give up and try a different tack, my head rings. An unknown number. I pick up. “... Yeah?” “Who gave you that number? It isn’t secure. Never call me at that number again.” Ah. The sweet, sonorous hiss of the agitated harpy. “Emaphra gave it to me. I guess she has bad information.” Berix huffs. “No, she may call my desk number whenever she likes, as she is a property owner with cause to access city documents. You are a mercenary with a sordid reputation who lives in a hole. Even a whiff of you in my phone lines could be enough to stain my record. If you must contact me, use this line instead.” “... Tough day, Berix? Office life really wearing on you?” “You are wearing on me. What do you want, Mr. Featherlight? Some of us have jobs to do.” “Hey, I’ve got a job. Not all of us ride a desk for a living. That’s what this is about. You said this line is secure, right?” “Yes. But not for long. Spit it out.” “I need to get into the Library.” “... Why?” “Why? You’re not the Librarian’s secretary now, are you? Spill it, I don’t have the luxury of sitting around all day, like some people.” Totally unnecessary, yes, but I can’t talk to Berix without antagonizing her. It’s a condition. I can hear the storm clouds gathering around her from all the way across the city. She hisses through gritted teeth, “Our relationship with the Librarian hangs by a thread on the best of days, Featherlight, and I will not allow any curious ape to wander onto his property and gnaw on the millennia-old tomes inside without knowing why. You spill, or we have nothing further to discuss.” I roll my eyes and sigh. “Fine. My investigation into the killings has led to me being assaulted in the street by Brotherhood mercenaries, and I barely escaped with my life. A Surgeon friend recommended that I do some training before digging any deeper, and I agree with him. The more tricks I learn, the more likely I make it out of this with my voluptuous frame intact.” “You were attacked? Where? Were you able to identify them?” “In Sector Seventeen after following a lead. The guy leading the pack was Krint Seagraves. I didn’t know who he was at the time. I was told after getting patched up. The guy nearly fried me, blew out one of my eyes.” She’s quiet for a minute, processing this. “Shit. The Brotherhood have taken the gloves off, as it were. They’re threatened.” Berix pauses for a moment, mulling her options. “... Very well then. I often disagree with your methods, Featherlight, but I will not presume to deny you your right to education and self-defense.” “How very gracious and merciful of you. My savior.” She ignores me. “You live in Sector Eighteen, yes?” “That’s what it smells like.” “Unless it’s moved, the closest homunculus to you is in Sector Sixteen. It waits in a tavern called The Scripted Serpent, on the far eastern edge of the city, by the Wall. This one takes the shape of a middle-aged man with very tan skin, in a dark coat, with a high collar and a wide-brimmed hat. Minds its own business at a table by a window. Provided that none of this has changed recently - I haven’t checked on that one in a few weeks.” “Hm. Okay. Thanks, Berix. I appreciate it.” Before I can hang up, she stops me. “What are you bringing for payment?” “... Payment?” “Yes. Payment. Access to the Library isn’t free, Featherlight.” Fuck. “Uh… well, money’s a little tight these days, so…” Somehow, I can hear her rolling her eyes at me. “No. The Librarian doesn’t care about money. He’s beyond such things. He only cares for knowledge. To be granted entrance, you must give the homunculus an item of knowledge that the Librarian doesn’t already have in his collection. A book, or some other form of media. I’ve heard he also accepts works of art. Copies of films and et cetera. Do you have anything?” I throw my eyes to my extremely barren shelves. “Uh. Well, I’ve got a few books, but I don’t suppose there’s a card catalogue available so I can check whether he already has a copy.” “No, there isn’t. You’ll just have to bring the ones you deem the rarest and hope. It’s the same for the rest of us. The homunculus will either take your offering or reject you. It’s an irritating guessing game, but we have no choice but to play by his rules.” I sigh. “Alright. I’ll see what I can scrounge up.” “Let me know afterward whether you succeeded or failed.” I can’t help but snort at this. “You’re not in charge of me, Berix. Thanks for the help, and have a great day!” I hang up on her. There’s few things I dislike more than people that try to exercise made-up authority. If I caught her, I could snap Berix in half like a wet twig, so her commands don’t have any muscle over me. And her policies are dumb and shortsighted and probably going to result in the dissolution of the Consortium, so she doesn’t have the ideological high ground either. She can eat me. Sigh. Sector Sixteen. Of all the places. That’s just over the sector wall. Noon… do I want to do this today? If I manage to get in, I have no idea how long I’ll be down there. No. No more procrastinating. There’s too much at stake here for me to keep doing that. I go over to my sorry bookshelf and examine the wares. I like reading, and what little disposable income I get usually goes toward books. Used, because new ones usually cost an arm and someone else’s leg. Most of what I have is fiction, though. Entertainment. She said the Librarian will take art, but from the sound of it, he’d be more tempted by something factual. Hmm. Let’s see. I’ve got a copy of The History of Wellspring City, but that one’s shit between two covers - a sanitized account that the Brotherhood had the University eggheads write at the end of a shock baton. Not much more than propaganda. I’ve got a few beaten old textbooks on biology, organic chemistry, internal medicine, physics. Stuff that both interests me and has a chance of lending a hand with understanding my magic better. They’re all really old, though. Several of these were picked out of literal trash heaps being carted away from the University and other places. Those old bastards are in a position where they can take knowledge for granted and throw it away. People like me have to make do with their leavings. Then there’s the soft stuff. A few books on philosophy, because I’m still essentially human and I enjoy a good laugh now and again. A few volumes of collected editorials from some journalists I like. Dangerous stuff there, but still technically legal. Then there’s the illegal stuff. I know - illegal books? Bet you didn’t know I was such a rebellious seditionist. Okay, truly, none of this stuff is even enough to get me in serious trouble, it’s just a few things on the Brotherhood’s blacklist that would make me look bad if they ever found them during their routine inspections of my home. I’d probably get a few months in the Sink and a welterweight fine if they were discovered. But I didn’t get to be as alive as I am by taking chances. I lift up one of my floor’s deck plates, where one of the old pumps used to be. Ordinarily this would give access for mechanics to get down under the pump housing and uh… do whatever mechanics do. I use it to hide stuff. The plate itself is too heavy for a normal person to lift, but underneath it there’s nothing remarkable. All the machinery and ductwork is long gone. All that’s left are a couple of welded brackets for securing loading equipment. Or that’s what it looks like. I reach down into the hole on my knees and grab a rusty bracket in each hand. Ordinarily I don’t have to pay a lot of care to good lifting technique, but this is special. I square myself up down in the hole, brace, and lift as hard as I can. Nothing happens at first. It’s dusty down here and it’s gumming up the oil I put on this thing. The veins on my arms stand out like bridge cables and my teeth grit themselves without asking me. But I put a little extra mustard on it, and the steel block slides upward on its tracks and out of its recess. I carefully lower it down to one side, recover, and huff a few breaths. I’d forgotten how fucking heavy that thing is. But that’s by design - the block is solid steel, about two by five feet, and three deep. It weighs almost nine hundred pounds. Even if you knew it was removable, you’re not lifting it unless you brought a chain hoist or you’re as strong as me. And not many are, baby. There’s only a shallow space underneath the block’s resting place, but I don’t have much to hide, anyway. It’s just a few books on the extremely long blacklist the Brotherhood managed to worm the Tribunal into accepting. Right at the top here we’ve got Vicissitudes of the Flesh, by Johelvebard Shrike. If that title makes the book sound kind of sinister, that’s because it kind of is. Shrike was an… interesting person. He was an old man by the time the Reclamation happened, and he’d seen a lot of the dirty, terrifying, desperate world humanity had to live in back in those days. He traveled most of Almarest and managed to not get killed for it. He spoke with the snow trolls of the high Rim, consulted with dozens of wizards (even though he wasn’t one), and was even granted audiences with the waning dustfolk. They say that even the elves respected him for his uncommon intelligence. They also say that Shrike was able to gain insight enough to become the father of modern medical science because he consorted with demons, but there isn’t really any proof of that. Vicissitudes was written toward the end of his life, when the Reclamation was getting off the ground. He’d already shared a lot of his knowledge with the newborn Brotherhood, but he didn’t join them, which ended up cheesing them off so bad that hundreds of years later they’re still trying to pretend like Shrike never helped them, or even existed at all. Like his earlier works, there’s some medical stuff in here, and also some… other things, of a more mystical nature. Shrike had some pretty cosmic ideas about life and the universe after spending a lifetime around birth, injury, healing, and death, and this book is where he got it all out, before his inevitable expiration date. A lot of it is very much against the spirit of today’s commonly-accepted and Brotherhood-approved teachings, so it wound up on the burn pile. But there are still some gutter mystics and haze gazers out there that keep the stuff in this book as valuable. Having read it, uh… well, it’s something, that’s for sure, but I’ll be damned if I can even tell what most of it means. Maybe the guy really did talk to demons. Then there’s the Handyman’s Bible, which is a bit more mean-spirited than it might sound. Most of it is pretty innocuous - very basic and easy-to-understand explanations of how to fix a lot of common household items. Toasters, leaky faucets, simple automotive fixes, that kind of thing. The anonymous writer or writers of the Bible had some pretty broad definitions as far as what kinds of things need to be fixed, however. The back sections of the book get into nastier stuff like lockpicking, gun maintenance, and even how to cook up improvised explosive devices. Really uh… takes a bit of a hard left turn just after teaching you how to lay your own concrete. Author must’ve been a pretty… independent sort. Weird, and potentially dangerous. But undeniably useful. And worth a few years in the Sink if you’re caught with a copy. Some religious stuff in here, too. Religion isn’t officially outlawed, because even the Brotherhood knows that separating humans from their faith is like pulling a viper’s teeth, but they do discourage any that isn’t theirs, and they especially don’t like it when mages start looking into other dogmas. I’m not religious. Not really, at least. I was raised Hydrist, but I let it go when I was a teenager. These days… let’s just say I’m hedging my bets. I haven’t seen any real evidence of any kind of deity of any faith, and I’m not convinced that anyone ever has, but… hey, there’s some pretty weird shit in this world sometimes, and while I might pretend like I do, I definitely don’t know everything. So I don’t make a habit of damning other peoples’ beliefs. Just in case there really are some gods out there and it turns out they didn’t appreciate me picking on their people. And I’ve done at least some surface-level reading on a few faiths. Here’s a copy of The Book of Sea and Sky, the main Hydrist holy volume. Where I started out. Would’ve stuck with it, too, if Mother and Father had been even a third as attentive to me as my actual mom and dad were. Under that is a heavy and many-paged transcript of most of the Ash Scrolls, the primary text of the Akhvallan faith. I’ve heard that Akhvalla has started falling out of favor with his own people in recent years, but he’s just as popular with pyromancers as he’s ever been. Go figure. Then a few collections of the Krathian worldsongs. I’ve read them, and they’re pretty and everything, but damn if the Krathian religion isn’t confusing. Way, way too many spirits for me to try and keep track of. I have no idea how they do it. That’s about it. Nothing super duper seditious, because I’m not stupid enough to get caught with any books on magic. Or at least I wasn’t, until very recently. I wonder if the Librarian has a reading room. I really do not want to risk bringing any of the hot stuff into my house. There’s no way the Librarian doesn’t already have these religious texts. He probably has way older and rarer versions than I do. It’s possible he might not have a copy of the Handyman’s Bible or Vicissitudes of the Flesh, but I’m not gonna call it likely. I’ll take them anyway, just in case. And hope I don’t get searched on the street. I take the two out of their resting place, take a few bracing breaths, and complete the taxing process of lowering the huge steel block back into its slot. Goddamn. I should be deadlifting that thing instead of my barbells. I hop out of the hole and put the deck plate back, then grab the few ancient textbooks I’m praying the Librarian doesn’t have and stuff them in a backpack. Hm. Magic training. Not something I’ve thought about in a long time. My eyes go to the panel in the wall where I hide my vitae tanks. They’re something I haven’t thought about in a long time, either. I don’t get a lot of use out of them, because I rarely have enough vitae to store for later. And I don’t make a habit of wearing them outside, because they’re kind of conspicuous and I’m not really ever in a position where I need extra vitae in public. But recent events have indicated that I might be better served with them than without. Metal that can interact with magic. A way to bottle something that’s supposed to be unbottleable. Hmm. There’s something there. While I’m in the Library, I should see about finding references to these runes Volzet talked about. Something tells me that if the Brotherhood knows about them, they’re probably not using them responsibly. I take off my coat, strap the tanks to my back, and plug the injectors into my collarbone ports. There’s barely enough in one of them to give me a full body charge, but it could save my life if I get jumped again. Thankfully I’m such a lumpy hulking mess that you can barely notice the shape of them under my coat. A few more lollipops in my pocket for good luck, and I’m out the door. Forward unto knowledge I go. [here's theprevious chapter][and here's theentire story so faron Wattpad if that's what undulates your ungulates][if you've enjoyed this tale ive woven,why not give me a tip? it's good to support writers you like ♥][and thanks for reading ♥]
AN: From here on out I'll be largely using English terms for time and distance. The simple 'cycle' will now refer to a period of time equal to roughly 10 hours, a Great Cycle approximately 1.5 years.
Nakteti was the captain of the Boom or Bust, a well outfitted colony and resource exploitation ship that represented her species first permitted colony in over two centuries. The fact that the colony choices were either barren or lightly surveyed didn't bother her, not did it bother her that the best bet was a superficially surveyed system in the Dead Zone. The Precursor War had been over a hundred million years prior, which meant that the planets had possessed plenty of time to recover from that war. The fact that it had been surveyed nearly five hundred years before was of no matter, that was just longer for the ecosystems to recover. With the new jumpspace 'lane' the trip, which would have taken nearly fifteen years prior, only took a mere six months. Nakteti had planned carefully for recreation facilities and animal exercise areas on the ship to ensure that all of her crew, the colonists, and the animals would all be as healthy as possible when they arrived. Arrival was celebrated throughout the ship when the ship dropped from jumpspace to realspace and the bounty they had received was revealed to them. The system was more than promised. Twenty two planets, six of them gas giants, two gas planets, three habitable planets inside the "Green Zone" for Nakteti's species. Five asteroid belts, two of them within the Green Zone which made them ripe for resource extraction. There were four dwarf planets, one of them a moon around a gas giant that could be good mineral and gas extraction and refinery base. The star was young, in its energetic phase, and had strong stellar winds. The colonists were dropped on the best planet, the second one into the Green Zone, between the two asteroid belts, and began the hard work of supervising the automatons that quickly began building the colony. Nakteti watched the Boom or Bust separate into different parts. One to become a wayfare space station; one to become a refinery; one to become a shipping station; six shuttles; and the smaller, sleeker It Tastes Sweet which Nakteti would use to seed the system with buoys, arrays, and do more in-depth surveys of the other planets with probes. For the first three years everything went smoothly. Buoys in both realspace and jumpspace proclaimed the system was owned by the Leedimak Consortium, the arrays slowly unfolded and began to gather and transmit data, and the probes showed that the area was rich in resources. There were even Precursor ruins on some of the airless moons and planets, which had the colony scientists rejoicing. Even if no new information could be gleaned from those ruins, old answers to old questions merely proved the old answers were right all along and proved the superiority of old answers over new questions. But any human could have told her: If it's going to smoothly, it's going to hurt when it's jammed in the rest of the way. Nakteti had enjoyed her part in establishing the colony. It made her whiskers twitch with pride that her name had been used for the trading capital of the colony. She enjoyed the challenge and hard work of supervising her crew and automated probes as they surveyed and examined the system. In the coming days, the biggest question that would be asked by the Unified Civilized Races various councils was: Why? Any human could have told them. Because it could. Because it wanted to. Because you were there. The first hint anyone had was an anomalous energy reading between the system, which had been labeled "Rich New Worlds" (Usually called Rich System 32), and a neighbor merely 14 light years away. It wasn't realspace scanners or arrays that picked up the energy reading. It was a navigation buoy tethered in jumpspace. According to the buoy the reading was only two minutes of energy, starting from a light pulse and growing to something massive before dissipating. The colonists assumed that the buoy had been somehow damaged when the diagnostic reported that the buoy, built and designed to hold position in jumpspace, had somehow gotten jumpscorched. They had barely had time to discuss the data between the colony's scientific council when the source of the energy reading made its presence known. By tearing open a tear in space-time that leaked the energy of jumpspace as well as other unknown energies for it to enter the system. Nakteti saw the scanning tech tear his earpiece away as the scanner reported the energy signature of the tear as a scream that left blood dribbling from the tech's ear. That scream, that heralded the arrival of the newcomer, was echoed as the ship swept down upon the colony. Nakteti ordered the Sweet in-system when the colonists began screaming for Sweet to save them. She knew it would take two days to reach the colony. The scanner could detect energy signatures like an artificial star but no ship. The colony's voice was silenced within two hours. It took over a day before Nakteti saw the ship on visual scanners, a day before visual light scanners were able to see the ship. It made Nakteti glad that the visual images were over, the law of light speed delaying the visual for a full day. "Captain Nakteti, it's on visual," Vekan said. "Putting it up on the screen." The entire bridge crew stared at the screen. The planet, formerly blue and green, was nothing but gray clouds. Orbiting the planet was a ship the size of a subcontinent. It was irregular, no smooth lines, like a jagged edged flattened egg. It was black and brown, the details fuzzy by light degradation. As Nakteti watched, light speared from the massive ship, into the atmosphere, causing the clouds to flee but the atmosphere to bloom up toward the ship. A few began crying as the ship fired again and again at the planet. "Energy contact! Eighty thousand kilometers and closing!" Vekan cried out. "Correction, many many contacts approaching rapidly!" "Debris shields to maximum power!" Nakteti barked. "Action stations! Helm, evasive action! Scan, what are they?" Slamming shut her visor, Nakteti thought fast. If it was kinetic weapons, the debris shields would brush it aside easily. If it was missiles that would explode the point defense would pick it off nearly a kilometer from her ship, long before even fission weapons could damage the ship. Lektat ordered the computer to go to evasive action and the ship began looping through a randomized pattern the computer came up with. Vekan queried the computer, ordering it to figure out what the incoming objects were based on by flight profile, makeup, shape, drive status (if any), and any other profile it could use. "Computer doesn't know. Undiscovered objects," Vekan got out. "Incoming is compensating, switching to manual," Lektat yelled out, slapping the button and grabbing the joysticks as soon as they popped up. Nakteti almost vomited as Lektat spun the ship and tried to vector away radically. The ship's superstructure groaned. "Second wave detected! Eighty thousand and closing!" Vekan suddenly yelled. "First wave at twenty..." The world went mad. The missiles detonated at twenty kilometers. Graviton compression on a fusion blast that turned the ravening energy into a dozen spears of charged lightning bolts that raked the ship. "Engine two is destroyed, engine five is not responding, internal gravity is offline, rear debris shield is offline, reactor two is offline, decks sixteen to thirty are open to space!" Chakuva called out, his voice tight with stress as he had to do his job for the first time in his life. "Damage Control Crews to stations! Repeat!" "Here they..." Vekan screamed. Lektat spun the ship on all three axis, seemingly trying to accelerate in three directions at once and retrobrake in two, he reached out and slapped another button. "JUMPSPACE JUMPSPACE JUM...!" The world heaved again as the missiles exploded twenty kilometers off the ship. The majority of them missed, thrown off by Lektat's desperate manual actions. Two hit. One speared through Damage Control Central, killing the six crewmembers. The other ripped across the front of the bridge. The atmosphere wasn't pulled out, it was compressed, ignited, filling the bridge with plasma. Three quarters of the bridge crew died instantly. Due to their face shields not closed, they hadn't worn their armor or even their vacuum suits, of they were too close to the corona of the energy bream. Red, the core of the beam is red, Nakteti thought. The Sweet vanished into jumpspace. Nakteti stared at the tear through the primary, secondary, and safety bulkheads, the tear going through the maintenance spaces, the forward shield emitter, and the reactionless thrusters. Exposing the surviving bridge crew to jumpspace for a split second before the emergency jumpshields managed to spin up. Nakteti watched in horror as most the survivors evaporated away, their molecules ripped apart and scattered across light-years of jumpspace. Leaving her, Lektat, Chakuva, and Vekan alone on the bridge when the ship dropped into realspace. Nakteti didn't remember throwing up inside her helmet, but she must have, she could smell the sharp tang of ozone and scorched biological material from the self-cleaning visor doing its work. She could hear Chakuva gasping, his vac-suit flashing red across the shoulders to signify a major injury. He was using his two right arms to hold his two left arms where they'd been ripped away by jumpspace exposure. "Medical to the bridge, emergency," Nakteti coughed. Chakuva shook his head. "Medical's gone," he gasped. "The beam speared straight through the ships armored and shielded core." "Making course for the resonance zone boundry, jump drive recharging, Captain, but it's slow, I think it's damaged," Lektat snapped. "Full realspace speed." Getting inside the resonance zone meant nobody could drop from jumpspace to realspace near them. It was usually used to avoid pirates. Not... that thing. Nakteti felt her ship groan and shudder around her as she got up, moving to the wall to grab the medical pack. She had always thought it wasteful to put one on the wall of the bridge, after all, anything that hit the bridge would kill everything on it. Maybe it would have been better. "Don't knock me out," Chakuva said, shuddering. His suit was treating him for shock, pumping him full of chemicals to keep him conscious. The Unified Ethics Council had long stated that the ships having vac-suits and armor that kept someone awake while injured was a crime but now Nakteti was grateful for it as she used the computer to treat his injuries without knocking him out. "We're across the border. Jumpspace drive is almost charged," Lektat said. "Plot a course back to..." Nakteti started to order. She was looking right at. Right at dark space when it happened less than ten thousand kilometers away. She was staring straight through the tear in the bulkhead into the darkness when it happened. It was like a talon tearing open realspace. As the tear formed, red and purple fire pouring from the rip with purple, neon green, and red energy. Inside the rip Nakteti could see swirling flames and energy, and for a moment she could swear she saw shadows like limbs reaching pleadingly toward her ship. Flames can't exist in vacuum, her shocked brain tried to reassure her, tried to tell her that it wasn't happening. The rip split wider, the black edge of the massive ship pushing through it. To Nakteti's eyes space bulged around the rip, like flesh pushed aside by some monstrous blade. As she watched the ship forced its way through the rip, forcing it wider and wider as the ship pushed its way through. When it fully emerged, the tear rippled for a heartbeat before closing with the sound of a heavy metal door with rusted hinges shutting. but sound can't transfer in space, Nakteti's mind argued. Right before the ship screamed. A terrifying high pitched screech of a predator who had found its prey. On all the screens, for a second, was displayed a simple message. THERE IS ONLY ENOUGH FOR ONE OF US And everything went dark as the ships computers died.
Sweet 16 Gambling Lines, mohegan sun casino events 2020, online slots paypal cheating slot machines kajot, blackjack beer back Sweet Sixteen: Bracket, Future Betting Odds, Game Lines, and TV Schedule. Casey Pazzalia | Posted on March 21, 2018 | Although it’s stranger than usual, the Sweet Sixteen bracket is all set. Only two No. 1 seeds remain, and among the four South Region programs, the fifth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats are the highest left. TV Schedule/Betting The adjusted odds to win the national championship have been posted, along with the betting lines for the remaining matchups. Nearly all the top teams remain in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen Below are the betting lines for the Sweet 16 matchups at DraftKings Sportsbook, along with futures odds for remaining 16 teams at DraftKings, FanDuel Sportsbook and BetStars in New Jersey. NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Odds. Game Region Spread Total Moneyline #1 Duke vs #4 Virginia Tech: East: Duke -7: 144.5: Duke -335 According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is the first time since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 that all 16 betting favorites in the second round qualified to the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 College Basketball Betting Odds & Picks March 28, 2019
Professional handicapper Kyle Hunter is taking a look at the Sweet 16 games on Thursday with an update on the betting odds and with some picks and predictions for those college basketball betting ... The video culminates with Ross giving out a free pick on the "Sweet 16" game. Category ... Thursday 3/28 Sweet 16 Betting Odds and Pick: ... NCAA Sweet Sixteen Media Availability - Duration: ... Michigan Wolverines vs Texas Tech Red Raiders Sweet 16 Predictions, Picks and Odds for their college basketball NCAA Tournament Western Regional matchup on Thursday, March 28, 2019 from Anaheim ... Brian Blessing is back with another video for us, this time looking at the NCAA Tournament March Madness games for Thursday March 28, 2019 in the Sweet 16 Ro... Professional handicapper Kyle Hunter took a look at Thursday's four Sweet 16 games earlier in the week. Now, he discusses the betting angles and thoughts on his mind for the four Sweet 16 games on ...